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Is a Pterodactyl a Dinosaur? The Surprising Facts (Plus What’s Cool About Them!)

When listing your favorite dinosaurs, does the pterodactyl inevitably come up? More than likely, yes. After all, pterodactyls are unique compared to other dinosaurs since they’re gifted with flight abilities. Hmm, maybe the pterodactyl isn’t a true dinosaur then, or is it?

Pterodactyls are not dinosaurs, but pterosaurs, a member of the Pterosauria clade categorized as flying reptiles. They’re related to dinosaurs and lived simultaneously; they even perished during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. Yet they’re in a league of their own. 

In this article, we’ll present plenty of fascinating facts on the pterodactyl, including information on its diet and which modern-day animals exist today to carry on the pterodactyl’s legacy. Make sure you keep reading! 

Why Do Scientists Think Pterodactyls Are Not Dinosaurs? If Not, What Are They?

Although we tend to abide by the rule of “if it talks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck,” that’s not quite the case with the pterodactyl. 

The Pterodactyl or Pterodactylus looked like a dinosaur. It didn’t exactly walk like a dinosaur because pterodactyls could fly. The creatures had a membrane that extended from their fourth finger across their bodies to make wings.  

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With those wings, it’s believed that pterodactyls could achieve flight as high as 15,000 feet, which is a tremendous amount of altitude. 

Its flight abilities should be the first thing that tipped you off that the pterodactyl might not be a dinosaur. After all, how many flying dinosaurs were alive between the Late Jurassic Period and the Late Cretaceous Period when pterodactyls roamed the earth? How many existed before or after?

That’s why paleontologists agree that the pterodactyl is not a dinosaur at all. Rather, it’s a pterosaur, aka a flying reptile. 

The name pterosaur comes from two Greek words sauros or “wing lizard” and pteron. Pterosaurs were vertebrates that had skin membrane wings with tissue and muscle. 

Pterosaurs are generally categorized into one of two types, pterodactyloids or basal pterosaurs. Pterodactyloids featured slimmer tails and wings. Their heads were large and their necks quite long. They could traverse the ground using all four of their limbs while staying upright. 

Basal pterosaurs were not so gifted on land. These earlier pterosaurs sprawled weirdly, but they could climb well. Their tails were longer, their jaws were full of teeth, and their wings were wide. 

YouTube Video About Pterosaurs Including An Overview of Their History

YouTube video by DangerVille which discusses Pterosaurs and how they would have looked and flown – AdventureDinosaurs

Of the two pterosaur classes, the pterodactyl fits into the pterodactyloid group. That class could have been named after the pterodactyl, specifically, the Pterodactylus antiquus species, which was the first of its kind.  

Is a Pterodactyl a Carnivore or an Herbivore? Some Basic Facts about Pterodactyls

Now that we’ve established the (possibly mind-blowing) fact that the pterodactyl was not a dinosaur let’s explore some more attributes of this mesmerizing reptilian species. 

Pterodactyl Diet

First thing’s first, what did the pterodactyl eat? Pterodactyls were carnivorous, preferring to consume meat sources whenever they could. As we’ve discussed on the blog before, pterodactyls were not above scavenging, which might have prevented their diet pickiness.

What pterodactyls are known to have consumed include insects, lizards, eggs, and baby dinosaurs. Very small dinosaurs wouldn’t have been off the menu either. 

We also have to mention the main dietary staple of a pterodactyl’s diet: aquatic creatures.

These pterosaurs ate enough marine animals that paleontologists have categorized the pterodactyl as a piscivore. Fish weren’t the only creature of the sea that the pterodactyl fed on, though. 

The pterosaur also readily consumed shellfish, crab, squid, and fish.

Whatever was dead, unconsumed, and in moderately good shape could become the pterodactyl’s next lunch or dinner as it scavenged. 

Despite the variety in its diet, there’s no evidence that the pterodactyl was remotely herbivorous. After all, it didn’t have the teeth for this kind of diet. In the mouth of a pterodactyl was up to 110 razor-sharp teeth. The teeth have even been described as fangs. 

Recommended Reading

The article you are reading is one of the 11 Series Articles connected to the Flying Dinosaur Types – Ultimate Guide to Pterodactyls, Pterosaurs. Check out the Ultimate Guide (see description and link directly below) or other key Series Articles selected for you at the bottom of this article!

Flying Dinosaur Types – Ultimate Guide to Pterodactyls, Pterosaurs
Main Article – With Links to 11 Series Articles

Flying-Dinosaur-Types-Ultimate-Guide-to-Pterodactyls-AdventureDinosaurs

❖ Read Now! Flying Dinosaur Types – Ultimate Guide to Pterodactyls, Pterosaurs

This is the main article in the series and it is packed with information all about the flying reptiles that ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era. It covers the different types of pterosaurs, from the basal pterosaurs and later species as well. There are sections on pterodactyl anatomy, classification, and phylogeny. The master article also covers:

—Interesting facts you may not know about pterosaurs
—Tables comparing wingspan sizes of different pterosaur species
—Links to all the Series Articles (11 in total!) which give deeper information about the pterosaurs

More Fun Pterodactyl/Pterosaur Facts

We’re not done talking about the pterodactyl yet! Here are some other facts on this captivating non-dinosaur species and its pterosaur brethren.   

The Habitat of the Pterodactyl Was Close to the Water

Fossils recovered of pterodactyls came from Bavaria, Germany, specifically the Solnhofen limestone. Its specimen was unearthed in 1784 by Cosimo Alessandro Collini, a scientist from Italy. 

During the Jurassic Period, this part of Germany would have been covered in wetlands and swamps. Encompassing the wetlands would have been a body of water, likely a sea. The wetlands were great for recovering fossils since the softened mud there buried skeletons.

As the mud became harder, it eventually turned into limestone fossils. 

This homeland of the pterosaurs makes sense, as the pterodactyl was near the sea where it’d do a lot of feeding. 

1. Its Wingspan Was Awesome!

Any winged creature impresses when its wings are fully open, and the same was true of the pterodactyl. Its wingspan as an adult was between three and five feet, which is huge! One of the things that make Pterosaurs so cool is their flight abilities and the size of their wings.

Pterosaurs came in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, and a lot of their wingspans were even bigger than pterodactyls, reaching 33 to 36 feet long.

2. Pterosaurs Had Tremendous Flight Abilities 

If you regularly read the blog, you might recall our post on the flight abilities of pterosaurs. We want to reiterate now as pterosaurs could cross distances that would make today’s birds jealous.

According to NPR, some pterosaurs could fly for up to 10 days at a time, maintaining incredible speeds of 80 miles per hour. The altitude they could have reached, as we talked about earlier, would have been 15,000 feet. 

At these awe-inspiring speeds, pterosaurs could have crossed 8,000 to 12,000 miles in seven to 10 days. 

Although technology has made fast long-distance travel possible for people today if they fly via plane, you have to keep in mind that pterosaurs existed millions and millions of years before all that. They were likely the fastest creatures in the sky at some point! 

3. Pterosaurs Included Very Cool Species

The pterodactyl as a pterosaur was one of many, many impressive species. The species that is the coolest is undoubtedly the Quetzalcoatlus. This Late Cretaceous pterosaur lived in what later became North America.

That’s not why people talk about the Quetzalcoatlus, though. Rather, they marvel at its huge size, which doesn’t seem conducive to flight. The Quetzalcoatlus might have weighed anywhere from 150 pounds to 550 pounds. The height of a Quetzalcoatlus was about 9.8 feet. 

Yet fly it could, and that’s exactly what it did. Experts still disagree about the wingspan of the Quetzalcoatlus. Some believe the pterosaur had a wingspan of up to 52 feet, while others are more moderate with their estimates, predicting a wingspan of around 39 feet.

4. Pterosaurs Might Have Had Hair

If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the fact that T. Rexes were likely covered either partially or entirely with feathers, here’s another fact in that same vein. Pterosaurs could have had hair.

The hair has a name, pycnofibers. These filaments look like hair but aren’t quite. In some instances, the pycnofibers resembled feathers, although not bird’s feathers. The pycnofibers grew on some of the wings of pterosaurs as well as their bodies. 

While we don’t know if pterodactyls had pycnofibers, many pterosaurs did, so it’s likely that pterodactyls did, too. While experts aren’t positive why pterosaurs had pycnofibers, it’s believed to have been used as a form of insulation. 

Are Any Modern-Day Animals Related to Pterosaurs?

We recently published a fascinating article that examines the relationship between long-extinct dinosaurs and the creatures that live on our planet today. https://adventuredinosaurs.com/2021/08/28/what-animals-alive-today-lived-with-dinosaurs-15-surprising-species/

That has you curious, are any living creatures of the 21st-century descendants of pterosaurs

Maybe not direct descendants, but relatives of pterosaurs, certainly. Pterosaurs and birds share many common traits, including the presence of potential feathers (although bird feathers and pycnofibers are different, as you’ll recall) as well as hollow bones to aid in flight. I wrote a whole article about Pterosaurs and Eagles that might surprise you. Find it here: How are Pterodactyls Similar to Eagles

Some pterosaurs had anatomical similarities to birds, such as a front dorsal vertebrae fusion so the animal can flap its wings for long periods. 

Bats are another winged creature that might be related to pterosaurs. The wings of bats and pterosaurs are built similarly, despite their size differences. 

I also wrote a whole article about bats and pterosaurs, check it out: Are Bats Similar to Pterosaurs?

Conclusion 

Pterodactyls are not dinosaurs but winged lizards known as pterosaurs. Although the pterodactyl was maybe not the most stunning pterosaur species, it’s still among the best-known. We hope this article taught you something interesting about pterosaurs

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