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Pterodactyls are iconic prehistoric flying animals.  Known to the general public as flying dinosaurs, they can be found in most works of fiction and popular culture as soon as they are related to prehistory or dinosaurs. But what about them? Do you really know their history, do you really know who these giants of the skies were. We're going to look into that right now.

 Everything you should know about pterodactyls

History of the Pterodactyls

Pterodactyls are pterosaurs reptiles that existed about 145 million to 65 years ago during the late Jurassic period to the late Cretaceous period. Since they are pterosaurs, these reptiles could fly, and this made them gain the informal term of the winged finger. Pterodactyls are, therefore, reptiles belonged to the taxonomic order Pterosauria. However, scientists and paleontologists avoid using the word Pterosauria to refer to pterodactyls and pteranodon. Since these pterosaurs have fragile bones, there is little known about their origin of this ancient dinosaur relative. Pterodactyls later evolved to be one of the biggest creatures of the reptiles type to fly and have a wing. These creatures went extinct the same time as the known dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

According to David Hone, a paleontologist at the Queen Mary University of London, there are 130 valid pterosaur genera at least. These pterosaurs were numerous since they lived and were widespread across the world from Germany, china to America during their existence. In China, the oldest fossil of the known pterodactyl was unearthed, pushing back the evolution by 5 million years of these flying reptiles. The pterodactyl skull appearance was more like that of a bird, but its intimate structure resembled more like that of a reptile-like lizard. These flying reptile made it to be unbird like since it possessed teeth. It was also distinctive of the American Cretaceous birds. On the sides of the PterodactyI skull, three vacuities are to be seen, including the orbit, the nasal aperture, and, between these, a third, known as the preorbital fossa. 

The physical appearance of Pterodactyls

Everything to know about pterodactyl

Illustration of a flying Pterodactyl

Pterodactyls are in the subgroup of flying reptiles referred to as Pterosauria. Therefore the physical characteristics of these ancient flying reptiles vary widely according to the genera since there are large numbers of different Pterosaurs. Pterodactyls mainly had long necks, which had throat sometimes poaches similar to pelicans for catching fish. Many of their skulls were lengthy and full of needle-like teeth. However, some of the reptiles similar to pterodactyls like the taxonomic family Azhdarchidae had no teeth, and they ruled the late Cretaceous sky. A feature of pterodactyls that was distinguishing was the crest on their heads. Initially, Scientists believed that pterosaurs had no peak, but it was later proved that crests were widespread across pterosaur genera and came in various forms.
For example, some Pterodactyls had prominent, bony crests, while other crests were sarcoid with no underlying bone. Moreover, some pterosaurs appeared even to have a sail-like crest that consisted of a membrane sheet connecting two large bones on the head. Over the years, scientists and paleontologists have come up with many possible functions for these crests. This includes that they were used for heat regulation or to serve as rudders during flight. Crests are not effective rudders, and most small pterosaurs have crests though they wouldn't have needed them to dissipate heat. What seems most likely is that the crests were used for sexual selection. There are various lines of evidence supporting this function of the crests, most notably perhaps because juveniles, which look like little versions of adult pterosaurs, don't have crests. This suggests that the structures are used for something that is only more functional to adults, such as mating.
Like other pterosaurs, Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus specimens can differ considerably based on how old the creature is or level of maturity. The proportions of various parts of the pterodactyls like the limb bones, size and shape of the skull, and size and number of teeth changed as the reptiles grew. Historically, this has led to different growth stages, like the growth stages of related pterosaurs being mistaken for new species of Pterodactyls. Studies using various methods have been studied to measure growth, and maturity curves among known specimens have suggested that there is only one valid Pterodactylus species, P. antiquus.
The specimens of pterodactyls can be divided into two distinct year classes. The length of the skull in the first-year class range from the heads are only 15 to 45mm. Skulls of 55 to 95mm long characterizes the second-year class of these specimens, but they are still immature. These first two specimen groups were once categorized as juveniles and adults of the species P. Kochi until advance studies proved that even the purported "adults" were immature, and possibly lie into a distinct genus. Traditional P. antiquus represented the third year call of the specimens of pterodactyls and a few disjunct, large specimens once assigned to P. Kochi that overlap P. antiquus in size. All samples in the third-year class, however, also show signs of immaturity. Full mature Pterodactyls specimens remain unknown, or maybe erroneously classified as a different genus.

Are Pterodactyls Dinosaurs?

This a question that is widely controversial since pterodactyls existed during the same time as dinosaurs. They could, however, fly, and initially, they were referred to flying dinosaurs; however, the study has shown that pterodactyls are not dinosaurs but flying reptiles that were ancient dinosaur relatives. These creatures went extinct the same time as the known dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. They are categorized as pterosaurs since they do not have an upright stance like other dinosaurs. Therefore, Pterodactyls are grouped as reptiles and are very carefully relatives to dinosaurs. Pterodactyls were well suited in flying since they had wings, but the study shows they had no feathers like the current birds. Pterodactyls had vast leathery wings and lighted hollow bones while their body was long and very thin. They had a good vision, which was very crucial for finding food. These creatures were carnivores and could feed on fish and other fresh caught from the oceans. According to studies, Pterodactyls may have been scavengers on land also. Pterodactyls lived in various geographical parts of the earth. Therefore, pterodactyls existed and became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, but they are not dinosaurs. 

Pterodactyls are mostly referred to by the general public or the media as the "flying dinosaurs." Still, dinosaurs are circumscribed as the descendants of the last common ancestor of the Saurischia and Ornithischia, which excludes the pterodactyls. Pterodactyls are not bird ancestors; however, they are more closely related to birds and other dinosaurs than to crocodiles or any other living reptile. Technically, pterodactyl only refers to the members of the genus Pterodactylus, and more generally, to members of the taxonomic category Pterodactyloidea of the pterosaurs. Pterosaurs had a mixture of lifestyles. Historically they were seen as fish-eaters; however, this group now understood to have included hunters of insectivores, fruit eaters, land animals, and even predators of other pterosaurs. Pterodactyls reproduced through eggs, some fossils of the eggs of these creatures have already been discovered.
Generally, the anatomy of pterodactyls was often modified from their ancestors of the reptilian group through adaptation to flight. Pterodactyls bones were air-filled, hollow, and resembled those of birds. This played a significant role in providing a higher muscle attachment surface for a given skeletal weight. Pterodactyls also had a broad and keeled breastbone for flight muscles. Moreover, they had an enlarged brain able to coordinate complex flying behavior. Pterodactyls skeletons mostly show considerable fusion wherein the skull, the sutures between elements, disappeared. 

Most people tend to think that the current birds are descendants of pterodactyls, which is scientifically wrong. Most of the existing birds evolved from two-legged fresh eating dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Jurassic and Cretaceous period. Therefore, Pterodactyls and Pteranodon were strictly reptiles in appearance. However, there is evidence to suggest that at least some odd pterosaur genera had hair-like growths. One of the significant differences between ancient, Flying reptile Pterodactyls and modern, feathered birds is that pterodactyls most likely was quadrupedal when they were on land, compared to birds strictly bipedal postures. This is evident in various analyses of Pterodactyl's fossilized footprints that have been preserved alongside ancient dinosaur track marks of the Mesozoic Era.

Classification of Pterodactyls

Pterodactylus was initially named in 1809 Petro-Dactyle by Cuvier, though this was a typographical error, later corrected by him to Ptéro-Dactyle. However, Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring in 1892 called the same specimen Ornithocephalus antiquus. In 1815 Constantine Samuel Rafinesque emended the genus name to the current Pterodactylus. Cuvier, unaware of Rafinesque's publication in 1819 again, emended the taxonomic category name, but the specific name he then gave, longirostris, has to provide precedence to von Soemmerring's antiquus. Richard Lydekker designated Pterodactylus antiquus as the typePterodactylus species in 1888. In 1830, Hermann von Meyer used the name Pterodactyli to contain and other pterosaurs known during time. Later in 1838, Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte revised it to the family Pterodactylidae. Recently, this group has been given several competing definitions. Pterodactylus comes from the Greek word pterodaktulos, meaning winged finger, which is a basic description of its flying apparatus. The primary element of the wings of Pterodactyls and other pterosaurs were made up of a muscle and skin membrane that stretched from the animals' highly extended fourth fingers of the hands to the hind limbs. 
These flying reptiles also had membranes running between the shoulders and wrist. Moreover, some pterosaurs had an additional third membrane between their legs, which may have been incorporated into or connected tail. Early research suggested that pterodactyls were cold-blooded animals that were more inclined to glide than active flying. However, scientists later discovered that some pterosaurs, including Sordes pilosus and Jeholopterus ninchengensis, had furry coats consisting of hairlike filaments called pycnofibers. This suggested that pterodactyls may have been warm-blooded and generated their body heat. 

Breeding and growth of Pterodactyls 

like the contemporary Rhamphorhynchus muensteri, the distinct year classes of Pterodactylus antiquus specimens show that this species likely bred seasonally and grew consistently during its lifetime. A new generation of first-year class P. antiquus would have been produced seasonally and reached second-year size by the time the next generation crosshatched, creating distinct 'clumps' of similarly-sized and aged individuals in the fossil record. Those that were less than one year old may have been probably the smallest size class which had just begun to fly. The 2nd year class represents individuals 1 to 2 years old, and the rare 3rd year class is composed of pterodactyl specimens over two years old. Rather than the rapid growth of modern birds, this growth pattern is similar to modern crocodiles.

What did Pterodactyls feed on?

Though some pterodactyls may have occasionally eaten fruits, Pterodactyls were carnivores. What these flying reptiles ate depended on the place they lived, some species of pterodactyls spent their lives around water, while others were more terrestrial. Terrestrial Pterodactyls ate carcasses fresh that included baby dinosaurs, eggs, lizards, insects, and various other animals. These pterodactyls were probably fairly active hunters of small prey. Water-loving pterodactyls ate a different variety of marine life, including squid, fish, crab, and other shellfish. Juveniles dominated the fossil record among the pterodactyls. This is odd since juvenile animals are generally targeted by predators, thereby preventing them from becoming part of the fossil record. Pterodactyls floated well; however, they had poor floating postures, in which their heads rested very close to the water, if not on the water.

aquatic pterodactylus
 Illustration of Aquatic Pterodactylus

This suggests that aquatic pterodactyls wouldn't spend much time on the water's surface when hunting and would launch into the air shortly after diving for food to avoid drowning. However, young pterodactyls still learning to fly or don't yet have strong muscles would have more difficulties launching back into the air from a dive, possibly drowning. Therefore, Pterodactyls most probably flew very long distances because of the different atmospheric self-satisfied dense oxygen-rich atmosphere. Pterodactyls could move on the dry land and needed to be able to fly. For a long time, scientists didn't know if this was using two or four feet. However, now we know that pterodactyls used four feet when moving on land, from fossil footprints. However, what is not evident is if they drove like this all the time. Some scientists and researchers think that small Pterodactyls could walk or run on two feet, but larger pterodactyls used all four as bats do.


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