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Scientific Classification
"For use in understanding the evolution of vertebrate flight, the early record of pterosaurs and bats is disappointing: Their most primitive representatives are fully transformed as capable fliers."[1]



These creatures are not scientifically classified as dinosaurs: more like flying lizards, but they have unique characteristics that set them apart from reptiles, birds, and bats. Their size varied greatly, from as small as a small bird to as large as small aircraft. Fossil evidence tells us that many of them possessed long, narrow beaks and sharp teeth.[2] Some species had wingspans larger than eight feet, and it is believed that all but the largest of the species were capable of powered flight (flapping the wings, instead of just gliding). Some scientists believe that pterosaurs continued growing throughout their lives and that individuals of one species may have attained a wingspan as great as eighteen meters.[3] Research also indicates that some species, such as the Sordes pilosus, had hair or fur similar to that of mammals. [4]

Pterosaurs are divided into two distinct types: Rhamphorhynchoids (long-tailed) and Pterodactyloids (short-tailed). The difference is in more than tail-length: tail structures differ, and the head connects to the neck differently.[5]


Recent discoveries have illustrated that pterosaurs laid eggs.[6]


Researchers have suggested that the pterosaur had specialized flight, vision and hunting skills, sweeping out of the air and snaring a fish out of water much like predatory eagles do. Based on skull analysis of two specimens, scientists discovered enlarged and enhanced neurological structure twice the size of modern-day birds, which they suspect gave the pterosaur the ability for excellent aerobatic flight.[7]


At first, paleontologists believed that pterosaurs inhabited only portions of Europe. Later, their fossils were found in North America, South America, Africa, and Australia. Recent discoveries showed that pterosaurs' ranged as far as China.[8] This in contrast to earlier beliefs about the spread of pterosaurs; paleontologist Alexander Kellner (Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) stated that the Chinese distribution "shows a much higher diversity in pterosaur groups than one could possibly expect,"[2] while others writing in the journal Nature said the "unexpected mixture of different pterosaur groups in these Chinese deposits indicates a very complex evolutionary history of pterosaurs in general, which is just beginning to be deciphered."[9] This conclusion is based on standard models of evolution.

The pterosaurs known as Quetzalcoatlus northropi from Texas, were especially large, standing as tall as a modern giraffe and with a wingspread of about 10 meters (33 feet). One biomechanics researcher, Michael Habib, postulates that they could have flown thousands of miles at a time without stopping. Habib based his calculation on a weight of about 200kg and fat stores of another 72 kg, (totaling 272kg, or about 600 pounds) and efficiency about 85% of a modern bird. [10]

Recent Sightings

The Ropen - a nocturnal creature seen on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea.
Main article: Living pterosaur

Cryptozoologists have been investigated sightings of possible living pterosaur in remote areas.[11] According to a 2006 press release, "Intermittent expeditions on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea, from 1994 through 2004, resulted in the compilation of eyewitness testimonies that substantiated a hypothesis that pterosaurs may not be extinct."[12]

Such claims might be bolstered by the discovery of a pterosaur fossil in Queensland, Australia.[13] Palaeontologist Alex Cook made the discovery in 2004, and called it one of the "most exquisitely preserved" specimens in the world. Queensland is just south of the New Guinea area.

In 2005, a nearly-inaccessible region of the island of New Guinea, the Foja Mountains was the object of a scientific expedition in which scientists documented dozens of new species that were unafraid of humans, and were previously unknown to scientists.[14]

Late in 2006, in a remote mountainous area of Papua New Guinea, a creationist explorer, Paul Nation, recorded 17 seconds of digital video of what investigators believe is evidence for the bioluminescence of creatures called "indava" and "ropen." They also believe that these are Rhamphorhynchoid (long-tailed) pterosaurs. (One local villager described the indava's size: like a small airplane.) Early in March, 2007, a physicist completed his report on his findings on this video footage: The lights were not produced through a hoax and they were not of any campfire, airplane lights, or meteors. They were also shown to not be from camera artifacts.[15]

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  1. Paul C. Sereno, The evolution of dinosaurs, Science 284(5423):2137–2147 (quote on p. 2143), June 25, 1999.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fossils Reveal Two New Species of Flying Reptiles, Stefan Lovgren, National Geographic News, October 5, 2005
  3. Flying reptiles just got bigger, Jonathan Amos, BBC News, 8 September 2005
  4. Flying Dinosaurs in Papua New Guinea, Jonathan Whitcomb, 2009 (?),
  5. Pterosaur, by Wikipedia
  6. Fossil Egg Finds Yield Clues to How Pterosaurs Lived, John Roach, National Geographic News, December 2, 2004
  7. Not all aerial reptiles were level-headed, CT scans show, Sean Kearns, National Science Foundation, 29-Oct-2003
  8. AnimalWorld: Pterosaurs, link broken as of 22-Aug-2010
  9. Pterosaur diversity and faunal turnover in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems in China, Xiaolin Wang, Alexander W. A. Kellner, Zhonghe Zhou, and Diogenes de Almeida Campos, Nature 437, 875-879 (6 October 2005).
  10. Pterosaurs might have soared 10,000 miles nonstop - Flight analysis suggests reptiles were record setters by Susan Milius, Science News Web edition: Tuesday, October 12th, 2010. Accessed 14 October 2010.
  11. modern pterosaurs by Jonathan Whitcomb
  12. Pterosaur-like Creatures Reported in Papua New Guinea, updated press release from Jonathan Whitcomb, the original being July 20, 2006
  13. Rare fossil find on roadside, By Laine Clark, ABC (Australia) News [Article from: AAP], November 02, 2006, link broken as of 22-Aug-2010. Cited by Australia: rare pterosaur fossil found, Dear Kitty. Some blog, 2 Nov 2006.
  14. Science team finds 'lost world', BBC News, 7 February 2006
  15. Results of Investigations Concerning Pterosaur Sightings In Papua New Guinea, Clifford A. Paiva and Harold S. Slusher, BSM Associates Technical Monograph 2007-1, excerpts selected and edited with additional commentary by Jonathan Whitcomb

Additional reading