Pterosaurs catching fish from the sea


More commonly known as pterodactyls, pterosaurs were winged reptiles - the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. The evidence for flight comes from their light hollow bones, large brains and an extremely long fourth digit providing wing support. The discovery of large numbers of fossil species indicates that pterosaurs were initially highly successful.

Species ranged from the size of sparrows to the largest known flying creature of all time with a 12 metre wingspan. Towards the end of their reign, only the larger species remained as the smaller species were out-competed by early birds. Birds evolved flight separately to pterosaurs in a classic example of convergent evolution.

Scientific name: Pterosauria

Rank: Order

Common names:

  • Pterodactyls,
  • winged lizard

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Pterosaur size range

A graphic illustration comparing the size of pterosaurs with humans, from largest to smallest: Hatzegopteryx, Quetzalcoatlus, P

A comparison of pterosaur size in relation to humans - from Hatzegopteryx with its 12m wingspan, to Nemicolopterus with a 25cm wingspan.


Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.

Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web

When they lived

Discover the other animals and plants that lived during the following geological time periods.

What killed them

Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction
The Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction - also known as the K/T extinction - is famed for the death of the dinosaurs. However, many other organisms perished at the end of the Cretaceous including the ammonites, many flowering plants and the last of the pterosaurs.

Fossil types

Learn more about the other animals and plants that also form these fossils.

Trace fossils Trace fossils
It's not only the actual bodily remains of dead animals and plants that can become fossils. Things created or left behind by animals can also fossilise, such as their footprints, burrows and dung.

BBC News about Pterosaurs

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