About the Exhibition

Part of the Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs exhibition.

Crests Gallery Pterosaurs Exhibition 700 309
The most dazzling feature on many pterosaurs was a spectacular head crest. 
© AMNH/D. Finnin

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.

In the new exhibition Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs, rare fossils, life-size models, and hands-on interactives bring these ancient animals to life.

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.

Several fossilized pterosaur tracks of various sizes in a stone slab.
Today, most paleontologists agree that pterosaurs were quadrupedal—they walked on all four limbs—based on evidence from fossil trackways like the one above.
© AMNH/C. Chesek

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.

A visualization of a Jeholopterus ningchengensis, a Jurassic Period pterosaur, flying with its mouth open as it nears a large insect. It probably chased insects like a bat does.
Jeholopterus ningchengensis, a Jurassic Period–pterosaur, probably chased insects like a bat.
© AMNH 2014

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

Long billed pterosaur
© AMNH 2014

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. 

Araripe Basin Diorama in Pterosaurs Exhibit 700 309
This dramatic diorama re-creates a scene from a rich fossil site in northeast Brazil, at a time when pterosaurs shared a lush lagoon habitat with other groups.
© AMNH/R. Mickens