Speaker Series 2016: “Over the Heads of Dinosaurs – Pterosaurs!”
Pterosaurs (“winged reptiles”) appeared at the same time as the first dinosaurs, about 230 million years ago, and went extinct with the last of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Pterosaurs first appear in the fossil record as fully-evolved, specialized, flying animals, so their evolutionary origins are still a bit of a mystery. They ranged from the size of a sparrow all the way up to the largest flying animals known with wingspans of 10-12 metres. They were the first backboned animals to evolve active, powered, flapping flight, and did so many tens of millions of years before birds, and 170 million years before bats. Pterosaurs have been known for over 215 years (longer than for dinosaurs), but their skeletons are very delicate and their fossils are extremely rare. Most of what we know about pterosaurs comes from just a few sites scattered across the world where exceptional preservation of many individuals, soft-tissues such as skin and “fuzz,” or three-dimensional skeletons give us detailed views of just a few hundreds of thousands of years out of the 160 million years that pterosaurs lived.
This presentation by the Museum’s own Dr. Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs, introduces pterosaurs and highlights many of their exceptional fossils that have been found in the past twenty years, and explains how our understanding of these mysterious animals has dramatically improved over this short time.