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358

Pteranodon longiceps

OLogy Series
extinct animal
card
358

Pteranodon longiceps

OLogy Series
extinct animal

With its long, dramatic crest, the giant Pteranodon longiceps is easy to recognize. This enormous pterosaur was first discovered in a rocky area of western Kansas -- a region once covered by an ancient inland sea. Pteranodon probably spent its days soaring over the water and diving for fish.

Wild West Discovery In 1870, a paleontologist named O.C. Marsh led an expedition into areas of the American West. The men told stories of traveling by covered wagon, drinking rainwater from their hats, and fending off rattlesnakes. Soldiers escorted them through territories of Sioux and other Native peoples. For a brief time, they were even escorted by the famous buffalo hunter William Cody, or "Buffalo Bill." Within Kansas, they made an exciting discovery: a single fossil from the wing of a giant pterosaur. They returned to the site in 1871 and uncovered more of the pterosaur. Marsh named it Pteranodon. He estimated the animal’s wings were 20 feet (6 meters) across. This was the largest pterosaur known at that time -- and the first to be found in the United States.

Pterosaurs wings have a different structure from birds and bats. Their outer wings are supported by the bones of their:

thumb

fourth finger

wrist

Are you right?

Correct!

The bones of a pterosaur's fourth finger (its ring finger) were very long. Like a mast on a ship, these bones supported a thin flap of skin that was shaped like a sail.

The large beak of the giant Pteranodon had:

tiny, sharp teeth

large, dagger-like teeth

no teeth at all!

Are you right?

Correct!

It had no teeth! In fact, Pteranodon means "winged and toothless" in Greek. Scientists think Pteranodon dived and scooped up fish like a pelican.

Mark Norell, paleontologist

Large pterosaurs like Pteranodon can fly long distances, probably in the same way that animals like albatrosses do today. They probably weren't active power fliers, but more like gliders and soarers.

As pterosaurs evolved, their crests disappeared.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Over the millions of years that pterosaurs lived, their crests became more diverse. They came in many shapes like daggers, fans, and disks. And they could stick up, back, or forward.

Pteranodon had the largest wingspan of all the pterosaurs.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Its 20-foot wingspan is around the size of a hang glider. For about 100 years, Pteranodon was the largest known pterosaur -- until the discovery of Quetzalcoatlus in 1971.

Pronunciation: ter-AN-o-don LON-ji-seps
Lived: around 85 million years ago
Fossil Found: in western Kansas
Wingspan: up to 20 feet (6 m)
Diet: fish
Cool Fact: In Greek, Pteranodon means “winged and toothless,” while longiceps means “long headed.”

Image credits: © AMNH 2014; Mark Norell, AMNH.