About the Exhibition
They flew with their fingers. They walked on their wings. Some were gigantic, while others could fit in the palm of a hand. Millions of years ago, the skies were ruled by pterosaurs, the first animals with backbones to fly under their own power.
Step back in time to see pterosaurs, including giants such as Tropeognathus mesembrinus,with a wingspan of more than 25 feet, and find out how they moved on land and in the air. Get a first-hand look at the rare pterosaur fossils that have helped paleontologists learn all that we know about these animals. In a virtual flight lab, use your body to pilot a pterosaur over a prehistoric landscape. Encounter the exceptional creatures that flew in the age of dinosaurs.
Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is on view from April 5, 2014, through January 4, 2015.
Introduction: What Is a Pterosaur?
Pterosaurs are neither birds nor bats, but flying reptiles that lived from about 220 and 66 million years ago. Though close cousins of dinosaurs, they evolved on a separate branch of a reptile family tree.
In this section, find out about the pterosaurs' incredible diversity, why pterosaurs left so few fossils compared to dinosaurs, and how scientists glean clues about these long-gone species from fossil remains.
From the Ground Up
We can only imagine the spectacular sight of pterosaurs in flight. Fossils don’t capture their movements through the air. But many fossils offer a glimpse of another side of pterosaur life: between flights, when these reptiles lingered on terra firma.
This section will reveal what we know about pterosaurs' behavior on land. What was life like for a newly-hatched pterosaur? How did these animals change as they grew, and how did they move on land? Did meat-eating dinosaurs pose a threat?
Into the Air
For more than 100 million years in the history of life on Earth, the only animals that truly flew—not just glided—were insects. Then, around the time that dinosaurs arose, the first pterosaurs appeared in the sky. A new era began: the age of flying reptiles.
In this section, discover how pterosaurs' wings were unique and why their bones were uniquely suited to flying—but made poor materials for fossilization. Try your hand at understanding what made these animals so aerodynamic, and learn to fly like a pterosaur with this section's immersive interactives.
A Watery World
Much as shore birds do today, many pterosaur species lived along oceans and lakes, probably diving to catch fish or other sea animals as they soared over the water. Others may have walked through shallow waters, scanning for shellfish. Thanks to those rare occurrences when fossils preserve even the most fragile plants and animals, scientists can peer back into the depth of time and summon visions of a forgotten watery world.
This section features a dramatic diorama that re-creates a scene from a rich fossil site at the Araripe Basin in northeast Brazil, at a time when pterosaurs, fish, dinosaurs, and ancient crocodilians shared a lush lagoon habitat. Find out how scientists use fossil evidence to figure out how animals may have behaved millions of years ago.