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Flying Prehistoric Reptiles

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The first true vertebrate flyers were the pterosaurs. They first appeared in the Late Triassic Period and survived all the way to the end of the Cretaceous. Pterosaurus were archosaurs. although they were probably close relatives of dinosaurs, they were not, as is often popularly supposed, real dinosaurs.

Pterosaurus are often called pterodactyls because of the structure of their wing. The "pterodactyl" name means "wing finger," and the wing did, indeed, consist largely of a single finger. Pterosaurs arms had four fingers. the first three were small, but the fourth was of an enormously length.

Pterosaurs wing structureA membrane of skin extended from the tip of the finger to the opposite finger down to the hindlimbs. Some pterosaurus fossils have preserved the imprint of the wing membrane and show that it was not just a thin flap of skin.

Earlier pterosaurs were small in size and have jaws filled with sharp teeth and probably fed on a variety of small animals, including vertebrates and insects. They also possessed long slender tails. The more advanced pterosaurs differ from their Triassic ancestors in several ways: their tail was shorter, they had no teeth, and towards the end of the Cretaceous Period, they became very large.

Some of the last pterosaurs were the largest known animals to ever fly. Quetzalcoatlus, from the late Cretaceous Period in North America may have had a wingspan of up to 33 feet ( 10 meters), greater than the wingspan of some types of fighter aircraft.

Pterosaurs walkingIt is not quite clear how pterosaurs moved on the ground. Researchers have disagreements with the animals being quadrupeds versus bipedal. The quadruped view is supported by the structure of the hindlimb and wing membrane, as well as by footprints believed to have been formed by walking pterosaurs. They show what may be the impressions of both feet and folded wings.

most researchers believe that early pterosaurs were tree dwelling archosaurs that jump between trees, and would later transition into flying animals. However, the fossil evidence for this belief is scarce and inconclusive.