Pteranodon (Teh-ran-oh-don) was a winged pterosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous of North America around the western interior seaway that divided North America. Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs, but they were related to them, as both belonged to a group called archosaurs.
Pteranodon was a close relatives of the nyctosaurs, one the two groups of pterosaurs that lasted until extinction at the end of the Mesozoic around 66 million years ago. Pteranodon is often called “pterodactyl” incorrectly. There is no actual pterosaur named “pterodactyl”; the closest is a very small pterosaur known as “Pterodactylus” which is very different from Pteranodon.
Genera and Species
Classification: Pterosauria, Pteranodontidae.
Genus: Pteranodon (“Toothless Wing”)
Species: P. longiceps, P. sternbergi (may be a separate species known as “Geosternbergia”)
Pteranodon was a large winged reptile known as a pterosaur. It was known for the large blade-like crest on its head. A minority, about one third of the fossils found, are 50% larger with bigger crests, and are thought to be the adult males. The crest differs by individual, age and gender. There are two accepted species; P. longiceps with a narrow crest projecting back that doubles the skull length and P. sternbergi with a spade-shaped crest projecting upward that was four times taller than the skull. Some scientists put P. sternbergi in its own genus, Geosternbergia.
Hollow bones were more wide-spread in Pteranodon than in earlier pterosaurs, giving them a more efficient avian-style lung system. Pteranodon had slender jaws that were extended by a beak that was weak and, for a pterodactylid, it had a short tail and four toes. Its wingspan could be as wide as 20 feet. Their bodies were covered my short, thick, hair-like structures called pycnofibers.
WING LENGTH: 20 ft (6 meters).
WEIGHT: 20 – 93 kg (44 - 205 lbs).
Pteranodons were oceanic soarers, using their long narrow wings for gliding by exploiting air currents, and rarely flapping. They were adapted for takeoff from water and on land shuffled or hopped around on four limbs. They ate small fish, snatching them from a floating position on the water surface or making shallow dives while floating.
History of Discovery
Pteranodon was discovered in 1870 by Othniel Charles Marsh, and is known from many adult skeletons. They are the best known large pterosaurs in world; the first giant pterosaur known, the first pterosaurs found outside of Europe. The first fossils were found in the Smoke Hill Chark deposits in Kansas.
Pteranodon lived in what is now North America in shallow seas with a rich fauna of fish, sharks, and marine reptiles.
Witton, M. (2013). Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Dixon, D. (2006). The Complete Book of Dinosaurs. London UK: Hermes House.
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