Whatever you do, don’t call them ‘flying dinosaurs‘!
These flying reptiles lived alongside dinosaurs in a variety of environments across the Earth from the late-Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous period (225 to 65 million years ago). They ranged in size from Just a few centimetres to more than 12 metres, mostly feeding on fish while some scavenged dead animals and ate insects inland.
The wing of the pterosaur was unique, a large membrane suspended from a hugely expanded fourth finger. Pterosaurs are largely regarded as the first vertebrates to achieve sustainable powered flight, although the largest relied mainly on the wind and gliding to stay in the air.
There is much contention among palaeontologists as to whether these flying reptiles should be classed as dinosaurs, but the physical similarities are plain to see nonetheless.
Of all pterosaurs, the giant Quetzalcoatlus is the largest – in fact it is the largest known flying animal of all time. With a wingspan of up to 15m and a head the size of a car, the Quetzalcoatlus ruled the sky in the Late Cretaceous period (100 to 65 million years ago).
It is widely believed that Quetzalcoatlus fed on living dinosaurs, unlike other pterosaurs who preferred fish and dead animals, to fuel its enormous metabolic needs. Despite its incredible size this giant reptile weighed no more than 250kg due to the hollow bones associated with pterosaurs.
The pterodactyl is arguably the most famous pterosaur. Its iconic features were characteristic of many pterosaurs, although a longer neck and a shorter tail ensured it was more suited to flight than its earlier ancestors, the rhamphorhynchoids.
Walk, don’t run – Early pterosaurs struggled to walk with their wings closely attached to their legs.
Hollow bones – Pterosaurs were very light and able to fly thanks to their hollow bones filled with air sacs.
Size – With its wingspan and body measuring over a metre, pterodactyl was not the largest pterosaur.
Mouth – The long jaws allowed it to hunt fish, using its small teeth to grab them out of the water.
Flying with wings
The hollow bones of the pterosaurs led many scientists to believe that their wings could not produce the power needed to achieve flight from a standstill without wind assistance. Recent fossil evidence has indicated that smaller pterosaurs could achieve sustainable flight, although the larger creatures still struggled to get airborne without help.