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Why isn’t pterodactyl a dinosaur?

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The extinct flying reptiles of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, creatures like the pterodactyl, Pteranodon, and Quetzalcoatlus, are called pterosaurs. And while we might often associate these creatures with the time of dinosaurs, they’re not dinosaurs. From American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Danny Barta:

“Dinosaurs and pterosaurs separated from one another nearly 250 million years ago on the basis of having a hole in their hip socket and a long crest on their upper arm bone. 250 million years ago is really a very long time geologically, so dinosaurs and pterosaurs, while they may be close cousins in an evolutionary sense are really quite widely separated.”

bone structures

“Now, there are flying dinosaurs; we just call them birds today.

“Many other prehistoric animals often get confused with dinosaurs like the sail-backed mammal relative Dimetrodon as well as fossil mammals themselves, the giant ground sloth or woolly mammoth.

“People also think sometimes that large marine reptiles, like plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs, are dinosaurs themselves. You may think that an animal is a dinosaur because it’s large and scaly, but these traits evolved much earlier in evolutionary history.”


“Just because pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs doesn’t make them any less amazing. They ruled the skies for over a hundred and fifty million years, and I think that’s really cool.”

Next: How to ride a pterosaur, according to science.

Plus: More videos from our friends at AMNH, including:
Are dinosaurs still alive today?
• Why Isn’t Pluto A Planet?
The ABCs of Cephalopods

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