This may come as a surprise, but. . . pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs.

I know, I know, I was just as surprised as you are when I heard this is my Dinosaurs class this quarter. If you asked my what my favorite dinosaurs were when I was a kid, pterodactyls would probably be on that list, and many of you might have said the same thing. Then there’s the matter of dinosaur toys, books, coloring pages, sticker sheets, and so on. Probably most of the dinosaur related things you may have owned or seen as a kid included pterodactyls in the group. But the truth is, pterodactyls (as well as some other famous reptiles you may have heard of) are not dinosaurs.

Well if they’re not dinosaurs, then what are they?

Well, dear reader, to help answer that question, we’ll start by looking at what a dinosaur is. Merriam-Webster defines a dinosaur as: “any of a group (Dinosauria) of extinct often very large chiefly terrestrial carnivorous or herbivorous reptiles of the Mesozoic era.” If you look closely, you may be able to spot the word that excludes pterodactyls from this group. Did you catch it? The word is “terrestrial,” which means they lived on land. And of course, what is one of the most important characteristics of a pterodactyl? They fly. So, now that we know why a pterodactyl isn’t a dinosaur, what is it? Pterodactyl is the common name for Pterodactylus, a genus belonging to the order Pterosauria. Pterosaurs are closely related to dinosaurs, but the order consists of ancient flying reptiles. Other genera (plural of genus) in Pterosauria include Anhanguera, Quetzalcoatlus, and many others.

So dinosaurs live on the ground, and pterosaurs live in the air, what about the water?

There are actually several orders of Marine reptiles, two of the most famous orders are Ichthyosauria and Plesiosauria (some people believe that the fabled Loch Ness Monster is a plesiosaur), but there are many more. You can read more about the many types of marine reptiles here.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about dear old pterodactyl. And I hope I didn’t completely shatter your childhood. 🙂 Feel free to leave questions and comments in the comment section, and if you’d like, share some of your favorite dinosaurs. If this inspires you to do some more reading about ancient reptiles like dinosaurs and pterosaurs, I would love to hear about some of the things you learned that you found interesting.

Happy Learning!

-Lizzie

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