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Interesting Facts About The Pterodactyl

Updated on April 27, 2013

The Pterodactyl is perhaps one of the most well-known flying dinosaurs and the word Pterodactyl means "Winged Finger". They roamed the Earth about 145 million years ago, during the Jurassic and Cretaceous period. They flew through the sky hunting near rivers or lakes so they could eat fish, insects, and other small animals such as lizards. Some would even eat dead animals if another option wasn't available. They lived mostly in what we now call Germany, France, England, Africa and Tanzania.

Paleontologists refer to the Pterodactyl as a Pterosaur which includes both the Pteranodon and the Pterodactylus (Greek for winged finger) and each of them have other species that can be tied to them, respectively. It is unclear why people started calling them all Pterodactyls but they were the very first flying reptile to be named and identified. What people consider a Pterodactyl is actually a small Pterosaur with a wingspan of approximately five feet. This has been discovered through piecing together 27 fossil specimens, most of which are complete skeletons of young Pterodactylus. One fossil was a baby pterodactyl. It was only an inch long but it could already fly.

The Pterodactyl also had 90 large, cone-like teeth. Their teeth got smaller further back in their jaws and this is further proof that they would swoop down and capture their prey quickly. Another helpful discovery that has helped with reconstructing the lifelike appearance was several fossils that had been well preserved. They had traces of soft tissue.

The species Pterodactylus was discovered around the 18th century. This was before scientists really began understanding that dinosaurs existed and it was first believed that they were an ocean dwelling amphibian and that it used its wings for flippers rather than flying because their wings were formed by skin and muscle that stretched from their longer forth finger and back toward their hind limbs. It looked more like a large flipper than a wing. However, this misconception was cleared up by the 1830s.


The Pteranodon was discovered much later, in the mid-19th century and it was a lot bigger than Pterodactylus. The biggest species of Pteranodon could have a wingspan of 30 feet whereas the Pterodactylus would only have a wingspan of about eight feet as an adult but most were only 2-3 feet. This species of Pterosaur is completely toothless so it is assumed they ate primarily small fish.

Their main weapons were their Keen eyesight which would allow them to see things far down below them, even fish in the water and their claws or talons. Their talons would allow them to swoop down and grab whatever they had spotted from the sky and then they could carry it away from that area to a safe place where they could eat.


Even though these "Pterosaurs" were basically large birds, they are very different from the birds we have today. For instance, neither the Pteranodon nor Pterodactylus had feathers. The Pterosaurs walked on four legs when they were on land and if they had to, though it was difficult considering their wings were attached to the fingers and feet. This has been proven thanks to footprints that were fossilized along with this dinosaur. The male was larger than the female whereas our female birds are the larger sex. All these differences mean that despite what most people think, our birds are not descendants from Pterosaurs but instead they came from another two legged carnivorous dinosaur that was covered with feathers. What we call the Pterodactyl most likely had a throat pouch, webbed feet and a hooked beak.

The Pteranodon had a backward-pointing skull crest though it is unclear what they used it for. Some paleontologists believe however that it used the crest as either a mid-flight rudder or to attract mates. This idea stems from the thought that if the male had a bigger crest he could mate with more females. Since males were significantly larger than the females and their crests were more prominent, it makes sense. There is some speculation that the crests may have also changed color during mating season.

Their growth pattern is more similar to crocodilians than our modern birds because they mated in clumps so that there were distinct groups of similarly sized Pterodactylus. This also indicates that they grew throughout their lifetime.


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  • mythbuster profile image

    mythbuster 2 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

    Interesting information. Thanks for sharing!