Pterodactyls, despite common beliefs, are not the ancestors of present-day birds. What is more, there was no such animal as Pterodactyl—the name refers to a whole clade of winged reptiles from the times when the Earth was dominated by gigantic animals, specifically to two genera of pterosaurs - Pterodactylus and Pteranodons.
Pterodactyl is a common name referring to two genera of the pterosaur clade.
A clade is a group of monophyletic organisms, meaning they share a common ancestor. Although it is not known when and why the term Pterodactyl was adapted into the common language, everyone, except for paleontologists, uses it to describe pterosaurs.
The pterosaur clade consists of many genera, including Pterodactylus and Pteranodon, which are the most commonly depicted in modern culture.
Paleontologists claim there are more than 130 valid pterosaur genera, which fossils were found in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Pterodactylus contains a single species, Pterodactylus antiquus.
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest there were more species belonging to the genus Pterodactylus.
Pteranodon currently contains two species, Pteranodon longiceps, and Pteranodon sternbergi.
Scientists unearthed over 1,200 specimens of Pteranodon and distinguished two species based on their skulls.
Pterodactyls were not dinosaurs.
They were identified as flying reptiles. It goes for the whole clade.
Paleontologists determined Pterodactyls were not covered in feathers.
They were reptilian in appearance, however, some evidence suggests that there might have been separate genera, at least partially covered in hair-like structures.
Pterodactyls spanned from the Late Jurassic (163,5 million years ago) through the Late Cretaceous (66 million years ago).
Pterodactylus derives from Greek and means “winged finger.”
Pterodactylus fossils were primarily discovered in Bavaria, Germany, by Italian scientist Cosimo Collini in 1784.
Many fossils have since been uncovered throughout Europe and Africa.
Until the 1830s, many naturalists believed that Pterodactylus were marine amphibians that used their wings as flippers.
Pteranodon fossils were unearthed in North America in 1870 by the American paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh.
The placement of fossils suggests they inhabited present-day Alabama, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming.
Pterodactylus’ wingspan ranged from 50 centimeters to over a meter, while Pteranodon’s exceeded seven meters.
Pterodactylus and Pteranodons were cold-bloodied.
Pterodactyls had four fingers.
Their wings, made of skin and muscle membrane, stretched from the fourth elongated finger.
Pterodactylus had 90 narrow teeth in their skull, while Pteranodons’ long and slender beaks were toothless.
The most distinctive trait of Pteranodon was its cranial crest.
Pteranodon longiceps’ is described as prolonged, blade-like, and pointing backward. However, it could differ depending on age and sex.
Pteranodon sternbergi’s crest was more rounded, and harp-like in appearance, and its size also may have depended on the age and sex.
The primary purpose of the cranial crest has not yet been determined.
It may have served as a counterbalance to their long beaks to avoid stressing neck muscles. Paleontologists also theorize it may have served as a mid-flight rudder or may have been used to court females.
It is believed that pterodactyls had primarily fed on fish.
Pterodactylus’ diet was more diversified than Pteranodons’ thanks to their toothing, and consisted not only of fish but also small animals.
Most likely, pterodactyls walked on four limbs.
Paleontologists drew this conclusion from examining their fossilized footprints.
Neither Pterodactylus nor Pteranodons were the biggest of pterosaurs.
Quetzalcoatlus’ wingspan exceeded 12 meters. It is considered the largest avian animal ever to exist.