How Are Pterodactyls Similar To Eagles? What We Know About Them


Pterodactyls are known to be flying dinosaurs. In recent times, eagles are the most famous aerial predators one can think of. With both being alike in many ways, it will surely be beneficial to know how similar they are for scientific reasons. It will also feed and fuel your fascination with these dinosaurs or eagles.

How are Pterodactyls similar to eagles? Pterodactyls and eagles are the same in flying ability, hunting (they are both carnivores), and lightweight bone structures with fused muscles specialized for flying. Eagles are descendants of Archeopteryx and not of Pterosaurs.

Eagles and pterodactyls indeed share features like the ability to fly or carnivory. 

Still, evidence is needed to come up with the conclusion that these two are related. With these, it will help to use some scientific facts to answer this. 

This article will share facts about these two groups that will help you decide how similar they are, not just in features but looking at their phylogeny.

Birds, Eagles, Dinosaurs, and Reptiles – How They Compare

These three groups are undeniably fascinating, and more often than not, they are compared with each other. Here are some facts about how and why these groups are compared.

How-are-pterodactyls-similar-to-eagles-AdventureDinosaurs
Eagles are similar to Pterodactyls in flying capability and features that enable them to hunt fish and small animals – AdventureDinosaurs

Let’s Look At Phylogeny

Reptiles are almost all cold-blooded animals such as crocodilians, lizards/ snakes, turtles/ tortoises, and birds. Based on phylogeny, birds and eagles evolved from dinosaurs.

Around 300 million years ago, the first group of reptiles evolved. Then, after 120 million years, another group of reptiles had branched off, and those were the dinosaurs. 

However, because of the massive explosion of the giant meteorite 65 million years ago, dinosaurs could not survive except the single group of feathered dinosaurs. Forty million years later, therapsids, a group of reptiles, had branched off, becoming modern mammals. 

Phylogenetically speaking, modern birds are dinosaurs, and they are reptiles. It is in the lineages of Archosaurs where the ruling reptiles evolved and in the Ornithodira (or the archosaurs related to birds).

Tracing Further The Dinosaurs’ Lineage

Pterosaurs evolved, which were also considered reptiles. Dinosaurs, which are also a kind of reptiles, were divided into two major lineages, the Ornithischians (bird-hipped dinosaurs) and the Saurischians (lizard hipped-dinosaurs). 

Under the Saurischians lineages are theropods, the meat-eating two-legged dinosaurs. Several studies of various Paleontologists proved that it was the origin of our modern birds. 

Some of the members of the theropods were the Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptors. These theropods were closely related to avians or birds, and in that clade, Archaeopteryx belongs. 

The Paleontologist claimed Archaeopteryx for decades as an animal that has birdlike features- feathers, wings, and flight yet, according to some recent study, this creature “had already emerged fully onto the characteristics of the modern birds.” 

YouTube Video About Pterosaur Types, Evolution and Similarities to Birds

YouTube Video by Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology which is an in-depth presentation on Pterosaurs and their special characteristics – AdventureDinosaurs

Archaeopteryx lithographica was a birdlike dinosaur that filled the void of the “transitional species” which scientists used to link birds and reptiles. 

A highly detailed fossil further supported the birdlike dinosaurs as reptiles Archaeopteryx found in 1860. Later on, several fossils were found that proved a feathered dinosaur, such as the revelation of China’s new feathered dinosaur fossils in the 1990s. 

Since birds evolved from theropods, they share over 100 traits with modern birds. Some of those traits are the three-forward facing toe, fused collarbone, hollow bones, and feathers. 

Other characteristics of dinosaurs that are present in modern birds are similarities in their joints. Dinosaurs and birds slept in the same positions. 

These dinosaurs and birds are broody creatures which mean they lay eggs and sit on them warm until it hatches. They also had highly efficient lungs, and they looked so much alike to each other. They had similar claws and pygostyle. (Source)

The pygostyle features (bony plate near tails) were not present in all theropods dinosaurs, but all modern birds possess this feature. However, the early birds were “more dinosaur-like” than the modern birds. Due to evolution, modern birds also have differences from reptiles. 

One feature of the modern birds which was not present in the dinosaurs is the toothless beak. Therefore, dinosaurs and birds are classified as reptiles of the clade Dinosauria underclass Sauropsida and subclass Diapsida. (Source

Wingspan, Flying Ability, and Intelligence 

Both Pterodactyls and eagles are flying creatures of reptiles. These two have similarities, for both of them can fly to catch their prey. The Pterodactyls were the extinct flying creatures while the eagles still exist today. 

Unique Features of Pterodactyls

Most of the Pterodactyl was small, but others were giant flying reptiles, particularly the largest Pterosaurs ever found (also called “Dracula”) with a wingspan of about 12-meter and 3.5 meters high. Average Pterodactyl had a wingspan size of about 19.5 inches or 6 meters. 

One of the unique characteristics of the Pterodactyls was the ability to fly from birth, even evolving into a powered flight 230 million years ago. 

Pterodactyls were able to “travel long distances, exploit new habitat, escape predators, and swoop down from above to seize their prey” through flying. They flew like the motion exhibited by bats and birds through their forelimbs. 

They had long and tapering wings that evolved from their hands up to their legs. They were not only good at flying but also intelligent based upon the conducted analysis on the Pterosaur skull, which broke the scientist’s thought of a pea-sized brain of the Pterodactyl. 

The analysis includes a CT scanning of the Pterodactyl’s skull, which reveals the giant flocculus, a region in the brain to keep track of the body’s location. If they have oversized flocculus, it will enable them to collect sensory information from nerve fibers along with their wings. (Source)

Their flocculus allowed them to determine position and orientation together with the inner ear’s semicircular canals to stabilize when they turned heads. 

Eagles With Their Finest Evolved Features

Likewise, eagles can fly high to catch their prey, for they are flying creatures that existed millions of years ago up to the present. Some studies revealed that the first eagle had teeth like the beak of the Pterosaurs. 

However, because of evolution, our eagles today don’t have teeth which means they use their strong neck muscles and sharp beak to rip into small pieces of their prey then eat them. 

YouTube Video About Eagles and Their Hunting Abilities

YouTube Video by The Magnum which details the abilities, features and skillfulness of eagles hunting prey – AdventureDinosaurs

Eagles can fly at a speed of about 30 miles per hour, have a gliding speed of 45 miles per hour, and have a diving speed of 100 miles per hour. These flying activities are achieved with their wings having a wingspan of about 6-8 feet, particularly the bald eagle. 

Yet, unlike the Pterodactyl that could fly from birth, the eaglets could not fly right after hatch and were required to stay 10 to 12 weeks in the nest then training until they learned to hunt & fly. 

Similar to Pterodactyl, eagles are cunning and intelligent creatures in a way that they will dive in from the sun so that their prey are blinded. At the same time, use stealth-like tactics to cut to escape. (Source)

Are Eagles Descendants of Dinosaurs? Similarities of Pterosaurs and Eagles 

Anything is possible in science, like proving possibilities of some relative groups. No matter how alike they are in morphology, they may not be relatives at all. Here are some features similar to both that can help us tell if eagles are indeed dinosaur descendants.

Eagles and Pterosaurs: How Alike and Different They Are

Being a carnivorous or a meat-eater feeding on fish and animals is one of the similarities between eagles and Pterodactyl. These two flying creatures hunt prey intelligently and flap their wings to fly in the air, and both of them are feathered creatures.

Pterosaur bones, like those of birds, were hollow and air-filled. For a given skeletal weight, this resulted in a larger muscle attachment surface. Bone walls were frequently paper-thin. 

They had a vast, keeled breastbone for flight muscles, as well as an expanded brain capable of coordinating sophisticated flight behavior.

Eagles are almost entirely covered in feathers. Short necks, curved beaks, and no teeth distinguish them from other birds. Pterodactylus, by comparison, had a long neck, large jaws, and many tiny teeth. 

Pterodactylus would have used its teeth to kill its prey, whereas eagles use their talons. Eagles walk on two feet, whereas Pterodactylus walked on all fours.

Debunking Misconceptions About Descent of Eagles and Pterosaurs

The Pterodactyls were the dinosaur’s close cousins instead of identifying them as dinosaurs. Those Pterodactyls were flying creatures that evolved on a separate branch of the reptile family tree. 

What’s so special about the Pterodactyl was that they were the first animals to develop powered flight, which means they do not just glide, leap but flap their wings to fly high in the air. 

Similar to the dinosaurs, Pterodactyls were also classified as reptiles. In fact, they were an “extremely successful group of reptiles.” Pterodactyl is an informal term for a subgroup of flying reptiles called Pterosauria, which existed around 163.5 million years ago from the late Jurassic throughout the Cretaceous period. 

However, Pterodactyls were already extinct with the dinosaurs due to the mass extinction event 66 million years ago. They had left no descendants but a few incomplete fossils. 

Pterodactyl is the popular term that came from the Greek word of “Pterodactylus,” a winged finger, and this is under the taxonomic order of Pterosauria. This flying reptile creature was closely related to the other archosaurs like the dinosaurs and crocodilian reptiles. (Source

Another misconception about pterosaurs was that they were claimed as dinosaurs. However, pterosaurs or the genus pterodactyls were not dinosaurs but rather dinosaur’s cousins. 

Despite the classification of pterosaurs and dinosaurs as creatures part of the reptiles group, pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. 

It is why scientists use fossils and phylogeny to study the evolution of extinct pterodactyls to see if it has a similarity to the eagle or if it is the ancestor of the eagle.

Learning these creatures- pterodactyls and dinosaurs- is necessary concerning modern birds. People will know how the earth looks and how the food chain works with having these one-of-the-top predators. 

Though pterodactyls had many similarities to eagles, it still does not support that eagles are descendants of Pterosauria. Despite the classification of pterodactyls and eagles being part of the reptile group, eagles still do not descend from pterosaurs. 

However, they were closely related to the dinosaurs & birds compared to the living reptiles of crocodilians but not an ancestor of the eagle. Furthermore, there were a lot of studies that said eagles are descendants of dinosaurs instead of pterosaurs. 

Conclusion

By looking at the similarities of Pterodactyls and eagles, especially by watching a Jurassic movie where pterosaurs were featured, people can assume that the eagle may have evolved from those flying creatures. 

Mainly when we look at the similarities in their anatomic features, flying ability, and how they hunt their prey. However, pterodactyls were not the ancestors of eagles according to the family tree and phylogeny. It is because birds evolved from dinosaurs, specifically, the Archaeopteryx.

Recommended Reading:

● I’ve written a whole article about whether turtles are related to dinosaurs. It covers current scientific thinking, classification and phylogeny in which turtles are shown to be related to dinosaurs.

● If you are interested in reading more about flying dinosaurs, or Pterosaurs, I wrote an article about the two main types including their anatomy and wingspan – first type is called basal pterosaurs and second, later pterosaurs or just pterosaurs.

Michael Haralson

I'm the owner of Adventure Dinosaurs website. Although I have an extensive business background, I am fascinated with dinosaurs and have been since childhood. I'm fortunate enough to have visited fossil museums in Europe (UK, Germany, and Spain), the US (California, Texas) and in Asia (China). Currently, I'm location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

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