As the most instantly-recognizable pterosaur and many a person’s favorite dinosaurs (even though it technically isn’t one), dino enthusiasts are always interested in learning more about the pterodactyl. For example, did this winged, beaked reptile have teeth? If so, how many?
So, does a pterodactyl have teeth? The pterodactyl did indeed have teeth, up to 90 for adults depending on species. The teeth were shaped both conically and narrow depending on where in the mouth they were placed. Most of the teeth were further back in the mouth and became smaller as they went.
This guide will share lots of fun, fascinating information on pterodactyl teeth, including how many they had, what kind, and what this pterosaur did with them. You won’t want to miss it, so keep reading!
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How Many Teeth Did Pterodactyls Have?
Paleontologists and dinosaur experts sometimes have difficulty agreeing on certain dinosaur subjects, but not as it pertains to the pterodactyl’s teeth. Everyone agrees that the Pterodactylus had 90 teeth in its mouth in all, at least in adulthood.
The Pterodactylus antiquus–the more known Pterodactylus species–did indeed have close to 100 teeth. Yet the Pterodactylus Kochi only had 15 teeth.
Teeth fossils for the Pterodactylus were uncovered sometime in the 1800s by Samuel Thomas von Sommerring, a paleontologist from Germany, and Georg Graf zu Munster, a fossil collector.
Based on the teeth, Graf zu Munster made one of the first skull casts of the pterodactyls.
It should be noted that the specimen found was believed to be a juvenile. It suggests that young pterodactyls had fewer than half the teeth they’d develop as they matured.
Further evidencing this suggestion is that some P. antiquus juvenile fossils were found with only 15 teeth (give or take) as well.
Let’s talk a little bit about what kind of teeth were installed in the pterodactyl’s head. The teeth began around the jaw until reaching the jaw tips. The teeth closest to the jaw tips were larger and became gradually smaller.
There are several interesting factoids about the teeth of Pterodactylus, especially as compared to other pterosaurs.
For one, the jaws of Pterodactylus reptiles were straight, which matched up with their relatively straight jaw. The ctenochasmatids, a well-known pterosaur and a relative of Pterodactylus had a jaw that curved upward. (Source)
Further, a pterodactyl’s teeth went back into their mouths nearer the backs of their jaws, much more so than pterosaurs closely related to the Pterodactylus. Their teeth even went under the naso-antorbital fenestra, their biggest skull opening. It, too, was unique.
Did Pterodactyls Have Sharp Teeth?
We cannot ever say for certain what a dinosaur’s diet consisted of because we weren’t there to see what the creatures feasted on. That said, the shape of a species’ teeth has been a reliable indicator for centuries to point us in the right direction of what dietary choices dinosaurs might have made.
Keeping that in mind, what kind of teeth did the Pterodactylus have? Here’s an overview of their teeth traits.
Not all pterodactyl teeth were like this, but some teeth in the Pterodactylus head were undoubtedly conical. When we say conical teeth, you might think instantly about the long, sharp, ferocious teeth of a T. Rex.
While Pterodactylus would have lacked teeth to quite that size, paleontologists and scientists can generally agree that the teeth of Pterodactylus species were quite sharp. It would have allowed a pterodactyl to catch its prey and hold onto it before they ingested it.
Sharp, conical teeth also make it easy to puncture flesh and even break into bone if a Pterodactylus wanted to. (Source)
The teeth that weren’t conical in a pterodactyl’s head were narrow. When teeth are narrower like this, they’re usually shorter and smaller. The teeth typically have a peg-like shape as well.
It would mean the teeth are square-shaped or rectangular, with pointed edges on all sides. Peg-shaped teeth are handy for removing foliage from trees and bushes and thus would have been seen more in herbivores or omnivores.
However, even the T. Rex had clusters of teeth like this. Their smaller, narrow, peg-like teeth were dull but serrated. Unlike the herbivores who didn’t use their peg-like teeth for chewing, a species like the T. Rex could have relied on its smaller, narrower teeth for just that function.
If you look at illustrations of pterodactyls, you’ll see a winged creature with an open mouth full of teeth spread wide from one another.
It nixes the theory that Pterodactylus had small teeth clusters like the T. Rex, although it’s likelier that their smaller teeth were used for chewing than stripping leaves (more on this in the next section).
The pterodactyl would almost use its wide teeth like a comb, opening its mouth and heading into the sea. The teeth would collect plankton and perhaps small fish that couldn’t get away in time.
Did Pterodactyls Eat Meat? What We Know
Understanding what we do about the teeth of Pterodactylus, do experts believe this creature ingested meat?
Yes, and not just any specific meat source, but fish.
Although they didn’t survive forever, Dinosaurs lived on this earth for roughly 165 million years. That’s longer than human beings have called this planet home, so thus, we can assume that dinosaurs knew a thing or two about adapting for survival.
Rather than fight with dinosaurs for live or dead food on the ground, the Pterodactylus would feed where other creatures couldn’t reach. It wasn’t in the treetops, as long-necked sauropods could get up there.
It was in the sea.
Dinosaurs were believed to have been swimmers, even if not all exhibited the ability especially well. Even the T. Rex swam. For most dinosaurs, though, why swim if they could eat on dry land? It opened the amount of food the Pterodactylus could feast on, as there was less competition.
The Pterodactylus diet thus evolved from insects to fish and even eggs. It took millions of years for this switch to occur, and–like most evolutionary changes–was for survival.
After all, which is more filling, a couple of bugs or several fish? Exactly. It’s the fish.
Now, could the pterodactyl have been a plant-eater as well? After all, it had smaller, narrower teeth akin to what some herbivores had, and with its ability to fly, it could have feasted on treetops when sauropods weren’t there.
Potentially, the pterodactyls could have been an omnivore, says this Nature.com article. More research will have to be done to prove the Pterodactylus omnivore status, but for now, we can confidently say this winged reptile was at least a carnivore.
Interestingly, modern-day birds have evolved without the need for teeth. These species use their beaks to feed nuts, fish, eggs, insects, fruits, and seeds.
While the diet isn’t that different from a Pterodactylus, the eating methods are. Birds have beaks made of keratin, whereas Pterodactylus had a skull made of bones.
Bones are stronger than keratin, which is interesting since the former lost out evolutionarily. It indicates that a pointed bony mouth must not have favored winged creatures over time.
Likely, as the winged creatures that became birds shrunk, they needed a beak-like appendage that didn’t weigh as much, so keratin became the standard.
Pterodactylus, a type of flying pterosaur, did indeed have teeth. Adult pterodactyls might have had 90 teeth, whereas juveniles could have had 15 teeth in their mouths before reaching maturity.
The teeth were narrow and conical, with wide spaces between them. It allowed the Pterodactylus to catch fish and pierce them with sharper teeth. Although birds have keratin beaks today, Pterodactylus teeth served a valuable purpose at the time: allowing for their survival!