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Geosternbergia sternbergi was one of the Cretaceous period's giant pterosaurs, with a wingspan of up to nearly 20 feet. The lower jaw alone on a large male could be as much as 4 feet long. Many fossils of this species have been found of both sexes and various ages. Compared to adult males, both females and young males were smaller and bore shorter, somewhat triangular crests, but females can be separated from males of any age by their wider, more robust hips - the better for laying eggs with. These pterosaurs were probably mostly coastal, and have been found along the shore from Alberta to New Mexico along what was once the Western Interior Seaway, now the western Great Plains.
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This enormous pterosaur is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, one of the largest flying animals to have ever existed, with an estimated 33-36 foot wingspan and an estimated weight of 440-550 pounds, and an approximate height while standing of around 16 feet. While Quetzalcoatlus could undoubtedly fly, it likely would have required good thermals to soar on much like today's largest birds - maintaining flight through its own power would have been extremely energetically costly.

Quetzalcoatlus though, like the rest of the azhdarchid pterosaurs, likely spent much of its time on the ground, where it would have stalked ground-dwelling prey like an enormous stork. With legs built like today's ungulates, it could probably have run quite well, and its long beak would enable it to pluck animals up without having to bend down too low. Essentially, imagine a predatory giraffe that could fly - that's Quetzalcoatlus, undoubtedly a terrifying predator to the smaller dinosaurs of Late Cretaceous North America.
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Tupandactylus imperator is one of Brazil's many fantastically-crested pterosaurs from the Cretaceous period. The skull itself only has a prong of bone reaching above the bill and another that juts out behind the eye, but skin impressions reveal that skin and keratin was stretched between these two prongs to form the large triangular crest. It had a keratinous beak somewhat like a bird's, and was covered in small feather-like fibers, as many pterosaurs were now known to be.

Skulls of this and other tapejarid pterosaurs reveal that they had large visual centers of the brain, even moreso than other pterosaurs, suggesting that they may have relied almost exclusively on eyesight to hunt, rather than scent or hearing. What exactly they ate, however, is still unknown.
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Pterodaustro guinazui is a Cretaceous pterosaur from South America. A filter-feeder, it possessed thousands of small teeth on its lower jaw that functioned similarly to baleen in today's whales, allowing it to sift through shallow water and mud to find krill, crustaceans, small clams, and other aquatic foods. This is one of the best-known pterosaurs, with every growth stage from egg to adult known from hundreds of fossils. This is the only pterosaur that swallowed stones like some of today's birds do, likely to help grind down the shells of their prey. They also were likely nocturnal, based on similarities between the scleral rings - the bone scaffolding for the eye in many reptiles and birds - of this species and nocturnal birds today.
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Nyctosaurus gracilis is one of three (or possibly four) known Nyctosaurus species, a genus of pterosaur from the late Cretaceous midwestern US. It was about the size of today's gulls, and may have shared a similar lifestyle, along with its close relatives in the more well-known genus Pteranodon. Many pterosaurs have fantastic crests which were likely the results of sexual selection and used in courtship displays, but no other known pterosaur crest was quite as spectacularly large as that of N. gracilis.
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Jeholopterus was a small insectivorous anurognathid pterosaur from the Jurassic period in China. It was found with very well-preserved skin and protofeathers, and long bristles near its face, likely for helping to funnel insects into its wide mouth the way today's nighthawks and nightjars do.

David Peters, a source of some controversy in the pterosaur paleontological community, has hypothesized that this species was actually a parasite on larger vertebrates. He claims what others call skull fragments that were found near the face is actually a pair of long snake-like fangs, and that Jeholopterus would have fed in a similar fashion to today's vampire bats. The general consensus is that this is a bunch of nonsense, but a vampiric pterosaur makes for some pretty cool speculation, and I wouldn't be surprised if something like that were eventually discovered in the fossil record.


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Lauren Helton

September 2014



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