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How Fast Can A Pteranodon Fly? The Surprising Speeds

Pteranodons are a famous dinosaur species because of their ability to fly. Flying is an excellent adaptation to hunt prey and deter predators. Also, it is one of the means that organisms can travel and spread through places. It is one of the significant factors why birds are successful. Like me, you might also be curious about the speed at which flying pterosaurs such as pteranodons can reach.


How Fast Can A Pteranodon Fly?

Scientists suggest that Pteranodons were capable of flying at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Their large wingspan and lightweight bodies allowed them to soar through the prehistoric skies with agility and speed. Related species like the Quezalcoatlus may have reached speeds of 80 miles per hour.

The Pteranodon, an iconic dinosaur, showcased its ability for sustained flight, making it a remarkable feature of the Cretaceous period. As a member of the pterosaur family, it was marked by a unique trait among dinosaurs – bird-like flight.

Paleontology draws from the fossil record – the enduring testimonials in stone about the Pteranodon – to unravel the evolutionary traits leading to massive wingspan and powerful flight. This impressive wingspan, coupled with speed, is believed to have led to the Pteranodon being a formidable predator. It mirrors the powerful role of aerodynamics in its survival dynamics.

The Pteranodon’s biology, a unique blend of reptilian and bird-like attributes, provides intriguing insights into this extinct creature. In studying the Pteranodon’s flight and speed, scientists get a glimpse of intense adaptations that attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to ward off extinction.

In a deeper sense, unraveling the secrets of this magnificent creature broadens our understanding of evolution, adaptations, and our planet’s rich and varied biological history. Undeniably, the Pteranodon, in its soaring glory, casts a long shadow over the annals of earth’s biodiversity.

Pteranodon speed is interesting to consider because the speed of Pteranodon on air might depend on whether they can soar and glide, which would enable them to reach the fastest speeds. It has an implication on the aerial habit they exhibited in the past that can also be one way to look at the modern-day birds’ ability to fly.

I will share how fast a pteranodon flies, its characteristics that contribute to flight, and lastly, how it is compared to modern-day birds. 

Pterodactyl refers to winged reptiles under order Pterosauria. They are not directly dinosaurs but are close relatives. One of their best assets is their wings that can expand to enormous wingspan sizes. Here are some facts about the pterodactyls’ wingspan. (Source)

The flying Pterodactyl speed is estimated to be similar to the Pteranodon, about 50 miles per hour. Their long wings and lightweight bodies allowed them to soar through the skies with relative ease. However, it’s important to note that exact speeds can vary depending on factors such as wind conditions and individual variations among Pteranodons.

Pterodactyls Wingspan as the Best Asset

Pterodactyl is one of the few flying reptiles in the Late Triassic period. It is a predator and a greedy one because it scoops its prey from above, of course, with the aid of its gigantic wings and toothed mouth. A pterodactyl’s wingspan can range from half to three meters but depending on the species.

Many pterodactyls were small in size, but those large species can exceed a nine-meter wingspan. Pterosaurs can reach these large wingspans because as early as they are born, they already can fly, and this would have developed more of their flight muscles and prepared their body for flight. 

One of the pterodactyloid pterosaurs with the largest wingspan of 36 feet or 10.9 meters was Quetzalcoatlus northropi. In fact, it has been said to be the largest flying animal that ever existed. However, due to a lack of evidence and means to study this animal in detail, no accurate mass estimate can be concluded. Pterodactyls live together with other dinosaur species, and they also went extinct around the same time. 

Other Features That Contributes to Pterodactyl’s Flight

The ability to fly is not just solely attributed to the wingspan but also the flight bones and muscles possessed by the organism. Pterosaurs used their forelimbs to fly. Their long, tapering wings descended from the same area of the body that our arms do.

Pterosaurs‘ arm and hand bones extended as they adapted for flight, and the bones of one finger became incredibly long. These bones, like the sail on a ship, supported the wing surface. They also possess powerful muscles for flight that they can also use for walking on land. 

The Aerial Speed of Pterosaurs

The initial thoughts of researchers regarding the flying speed of such a gigantic dinosaur were inversely proportional. They thought that it would be pretty hard for a heavy-bodied organism to fly due to the need for excellent body support. To answer this, they experimented using computer modeling integrating wingspan and aerodynamic abilities. They use the giant pterosaur recorded, which is the  Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

Based on what we know so far, the Quezalcoatlus is the fastest flying dinosaur. However, as the flying reptile is so large, it’s easy to imagine that other flying reptiles like Archeopteryx might be the faster, based on the fossil remains and comparisons to modern birds.

For decades, there has been a debate among scientists about whether Archaeopteryx could fly or not. Archaeopteryx were able to fly over short distances in bursts, like pheasants, peacocks, and roadrunners, according to a new analysis of dozens of bones of modern birds and flying dinosaurs. It is unlikely that it could reach speeds of 80 miles per hour. (Source), (Source)

The results showed that their initial hypothesis was wrong. Despite the massive weight of this flying reptile, it can fly at a speed of a maximum of 80 miles an hour. This speed is comparable to the fastest speed a lion can run on land. However, it is far from almost 200 miles per hour by the fastest bird, the Peregrine falcon. (Source)

Another pterosaur is the Pteranodon, with a wingspan of approximately six to seven meters. What’s unique about this species is that despite having a relatively large wingspan and compared to the heavy pterosaurs, its body mass is relatively low. 

How Far Can A Pterodactyl Fly?

Indeed pterosaurs can fly at a considerable speed; another thing we should look at is the distance they can go with their large bodies. 

The Distance A Pterodactyl Can Go In Air

It might be weird to witness a pterodactyl flying nowadays being as large as airplanes. Well, similar to planes, this species can go reasonable distances. 

According to National Geographic, giant pterosaurs can even fly non-stop, covering a distance of 10,000 miles. At the same time, Pteranodons can fly as high as 15,000 altitudes and an average range of 11,000 miles. 

A fascinating fact is that these species can fly for 7-10 days without having a pit stop, implying that they have enough stamina for this lifestyle. This ability enables them to roam around and efficiently hunt for prey. 

 The Relationship of Intelligence and Flight

A measure that scientists look into to determine an organism’s intelligence, including extinct animals, is the Encephalization Quotient or simply the relative size of the brain compared to the body. 

Though there has been a debate over the years of its applicability to non-mammalian species, it is the safest way to assume intelligence. A higher EQ can be equated to higher intelligence among other groups. 

Compared to other extinct and extant archosaur groups, pterosaurs have higher EQ. This higher EQ has something to do with their ability to fly. The flight could have been a significant product of intelligence or vice versa because it requires neuromuscular development. 

Also, since they are known predators, they could have higher cognitive functions than those that are not predators. These cognitive abilities include strategies to capture prey. (Source)

Pterosaurs, unlike birds, exhibit maternal care, which would also demonstrate that they have at least a good thinking ability to do this efficiently. 

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


❖ 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

Comparison of Possible Pterodactyl Flight Speeds versus Modern-Day Birds

Both birds and pterodactyl can fly, and if we compare their speed, there will always be a winner. 

Modern Day Birds Flight Speed

The fastest speed recorded for modern birds is around 180-240 miles per hour. The Peregrine falcon got this title. It has a very agile body fitted for flight. It is not only the fastest bird but also the fastest animal that exists on Earth today. It is followed by the Golden eagle and Gyrfalcon that can fly at around 130-200 mph. 

It can be observed that most birds with fast speeds belong to the falcon and eagle families. Well, this is not uncommon since their wings and body are well-engineered for flight and also hunting. 

A Comparison of Bird and Pterodactyl’s Flight

Pterodactyls are way larger than modern-day birds, and it might be a limitation to reach a speed at par with a Peregrine Falcon. Despite this, having the ability to fly is a good habitat adaptation. 

Although there is still a gap of when and how exactly Pterosaurs evolved to fly, paleontologists are still doing their best to find the answers. Just like birds, pterosaurs also have flightless species that specialize in living on land and aquatic habitats. (Source)

A significant difference between the two, aside from their speed and size, is that Pterodactyls can already fly right after birth which is not seen in birds or other flying vertebrates. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Most were able to fly, and this was a suitable survival mechanism; however, some flaplings (baby pterodactyls) also had their fair share leading to death because of flight accidents. 

Amidst the comparison of birds and Pterosaurs, remember that they are not related since Pterosaurs are reptiles, and the ancestors of birds are feathered dinosaurs on land. 


The body size of Pterosaurs, including Pteranodon and Pterodactyl, did not hinder these species from flying. Not just simple flying but flying at a reasonable speed. A good flying ability and great stamina for this habit is indeed a significant advantage over the others. This information is relevant to the limited information we had on the evolution of flight in the early animals, including these flying reptiles and examining how the flight in modern-day birds possibly came about. Well, paleontologists still have many questions, but examining them is not for the faint of heart.