Pterosauria (Pterosaurs)


Pterosaurs were a highly successful group of carnivorous reptiles with well‐developed wings and an excellent flight ability. They lived alongside the dinosaurs, survived for more than 140 million years and filled many habitats now occupied by birds and bats.

Keywords: pterosaurs; flight; jurassic; cretaceous; reptiles

Figure 1.

The evolutionary history of pterosaurs. Each column represents the known extent of a particular lineage with blank sections indicating gaps in the fossil record. Important fossil horizons are shown in italics and the figures on the left side indicate age in millions of years. Abbreviations: Alb, Albian; Ani, Anisian; Apt, Aptian; Bar, Barremian; Baj, Bajocian; Bat, Bathonian; Ber, Berriasian; Cal, Callovian; Cam, Campanian; Car, Carnian; Cen, Cenomanian; Hau, Hauterivian; Het, Hettangian; Kim, Kimmeridgian; Lad, Ladinian; Maa, Maastrichtian; Nor, Norian; Oxf, Oxfordian; San, Santonian; Sin, Sinemurian; Toa, Toarcian; Tth, Tithonian; Val, Valanginian.

Figure 2.

The skeleton of Rhamphorhynchus (wingspan, 1 m). Wing‐membranes and some of their internal fibres are shown on the left side. Abbreviations: ch, cheiropatagium; f, fibres; h, humerus; i, ii, iii, digits one to three; or, orbit; p, pelvis; pr, propatagium; sh, shoulder girdle; sk, skull; st, sternum; t, tail; up, uropatagium; v, fifth toe; wf, wing‐finger.

Figure 3.

Skull diversity in pterosaurs (numbers in parentheses indicate skull length). (a) Dimorphodon, Early Jurassic (0.2 m); (b) Anurognathus, Late Jurassic (0.032 m); (c) Eudimorphodon, Late Triassic (0.09 m); (d) Rhamphorhynchus, Late Jurassic (0.1 m); (e) Pterodactylus, Late Jurassic (0.085 m); (f) Ctenochasma, Late Jurassic (0.01 m); (g) Dsungaripterus, Early Cretaceous (0.4 m); (h) Anhanguera, Early Cretaceous (0.6 m); (i) Tapejara, Early Cretaceous (0.22 m); (j) Pteranodon, Late Cretaceous (1.5 m).


Further Reading

Bennett SC (1993) The ontogeny of Pteranodon and other pterosaurs. Paleobiology 19: 92–106.

Bennett SC (1996) The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 118: 261–308.

Benton MJ (1997) Vertebrate Palaeontology, 2nd edn. London: Chapman & Hall.

Carroll RL (1988) Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: WH Freeman and Company.

Langston W (1981) Pterosaurs. Scientific American 244 (2): 122–136.

Padian K and Rayner JMV (1992) The wings of pterosaurs. American Journal of Science 293A: 91–166.

Unwin DM (1997) Pterosaur tracks and the terrestrial ability of pterosaurs. Lethaia 29: 373–386.

Unwin DM and Bakhurina NN (1994) Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature 371: 62–64.

Wellnhofer P (1991) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs. London: Salamander Books.

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How to Cite close
Unwin, David M(May 2001) Pterosauria (Pterosaurs). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001546]