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Pterosaurs - Death from the sky

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Description

More commonly known as pterodactyls, pterosaurs were winged reptiles - the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight.
The evidence for flight comes from their light hollow bones, large brains and an extremely long fourth digit providing wing support. The discovery of large numbers of fossil species indicates that pterosaurs were initially highly successful.

 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils

They existed from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period (228 to 66 million years ago).
Their wings were formed by a membrane of skin, muscle, and other tissues stretching from the ankles to a dramatically lengthened fourth finger.
"Pterosaurs were just the coolest things that were ever in the air," says Keven Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
"They were the first vertebrates to fly. They did it long before birds and bats. And it terms of size, they pushed the envelope as far as it could go for a flying animal."
Uncontested in the air, pterosaurs colonized all continents and evolved a vast array of shapes and sizes. Of more than 120 named species, the smallest pterosaur measured no bigger than a sparrow; the largest reached a wingspan of nearly 40 feet (12 meters), wider than an F-16 fighter.

 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils

The anatomy of pterosaurs was highly modified from their reptilian ancestors by the demands of flight.
Pterosaur bones were hollow and air-filled, like the bones of birds. They had a keeled breastbone that was developed for the attachment of flight muscles and an enlarged brain that shows specialised features associated with flight.
In some later pterosaurs, the backbone over the shoulders fused into a structure known as a notarium, which served to stiffen the torso during flight, and provide a stable support for the scapula (shoulder blade).


Pterosaur wings were formed by membranes of skin and other tissues. The primary membranes attached to the extremely long fourth finger of each arm and extended along the sides of the body to the ankles.
While historically thought of as simple, leathery structures composed of skin, research has since shown that the wing membranes of pterosaurs were actually highly complex and dynamic structures suited to an active style of flight.
The outer wings (from the tip to the elbow) were strengthened by closely spaced fibers called actinofibrils.The actinofibrils themselves consisted of three distinct layers in the wing, forming a crisscross pattern when superimposed on one another.

 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils


Pterosaur fossils are rare (and the further you go back in time the more rare they become) and even more so than dinosaurs or even birds as their bones were hollow to reduce their weight.
This makes them unsuitable for fossilisation and thus rarer than many of their contemporary relatives. Even so, we have thousands of specimens representing around 100 species (though this is still about 1/10th of the dinosaur fossil record).
However many pterosaur fossils are from exceptionally well preserved fossil beds and thus are known with skin, beaks, claws, wings and other soft tissues preserved, and not just bones.

 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils

The new fossil found in in the Sebes area of Romania,which includes bones of adult birds and chicks, as well as clusters of broken and intact eggs, is the result of an ancient flash flood that wiped out an entire colony of the birds.
The birds belonged to the enantiornithines, the most abundant and diverse bird group of theprehistoric period. Almost all retained teeth and clawed fingers on each wing, but were in all other respects like modern birds.

According to scientists studying the fossil find, the flash flood disaster happened in the late Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago, in what is now Transylvania, Romania.
The jumbled remains, preserved in river-side limestone in the Sebes area of Romania, show that the colony was completely surprised by the flood.
Study researcher Dr Gareth Dyke, of the University of Southampton, said the find was important because it's the first evidence that ancient birds nested along the water like modern birds.

Due to their long existence on the Planet over 150 million years severeal types of Pterosaurs were identiffied :

Triassic Pterosaurs - Eudimorphodon Ranzii; Eudimorphodon is a typical Triassic pterosaur, with different size teeth and some teeth with three cusps.
The earliest known pterosaurs were fully formed flying animals with long tails and well developed wings. They all appear to have been carnivores.
Most of the larger Triassic pterosaurs were about the size of large crows or buzzards.

Jurassic Pterosaurs
During the Jurassic Period there were a large number of different types of pterosaurs. Some were as big as small birds and others were larger than eagles. Many forms had very large teeth.
Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus lived side by side in the late Jurassic era. This was when the large dinosaurs roamed the land.

Cretaceous Pterosaurs
During the Cretaceous Era the pterosaurs became larger than ever. Some species had wingspans equal to those of a small aeroplane.
Small pterosaurs had almost disappeared, they were probably unable to compete with the newly evolved birds.
 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils

 

Reproduction
Very little is known about pterosaur reproduction, and pterosaur eggs are very rare. The first known pterosaur egg was found in the quarries of Liaoning, the same place that yielded the famous feathered dinosaurs.
The egg was squashed flat with no signs of cracking, so evidently the eggs had leathery shells, as in modern lizards.

 


Habitat
Pterosaurs were populating most of the areas on the Earth due to their capability of fying.
Several fosils were found in different area the Earth.

 

Pterosaurs,flying dinosaurs,bird from Triassic,Pterosaur fossils

 

Diet
Pterosaurs were carnivores; they ate fish (which they caught at the surface of the oceans), mollusks, crabs, perhaps plankton (for some species), insects, and scavenged dead animals on land.

 


Extinction
Like their cousins the dinosaurs, pterosaurs stand out as one of evolution's great success stories.
They first appeared during the Triassic period, 215 million years ago, and thrived for 150 million years before going extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period.

  

Interesting Facts

  • Pterosaurs are often referred to in the popular media and by the general public as flying dinosaurs, but this is incorrect.Pterosaurs (terro-sawrs) are not dinosaurs (though many textbooks include them with the dinosaurs).The are an order of their own; Pterosauria (terro-sawr-ia).
  • The term "dinosaur" is restricted to just those reptiles descended from the last common ancestor of the groups Saurischia and Ornithischia.Pterosaurs are also incorrectly referred to as pterodactyls, particularly by journalists.
  • Pterosaurs stand out as one of evolution's great success stories.They first appeared during the Triassic period, 215 million years ago, and thrived for 150 million years.
  • A new fossil found in in the Sebes area of Romania which includes bones of adult birds and chicks, as well as clusters of broken and intact eggs

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