/ter"euh sawr'/, n.any flying reptile of the extinct order Pterosauria, from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, having the outside digit of the forelimb greatly elongated and supporting a wing membrane.[1860-65; < NL Pterosauria; see PTERO-, -SAUR]
* * *Any of several extinct flying reptiles (order Pterosauria) that flourished during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (206–65 million years ago).Pterosaurs hung by their long, slender hind limbs when at rest. They soared and glided on fragile, membranous wings that were attached to the long fourth finger of each forelimb and extended along the flank. The first three fingers were slender, clawed, clutching structures. Pterosaurs had a long, slender beak and a large brain. Ramphorhynchus had strong, sharply pointed teeth, a long tail, and a wingspread of about 3 ft (1 m). It probably obtained food by diving for fish. See also pterodactyl.
* * *▪ fossil orderany of the flying reptiles that flourished during all periods (Triassic (Triassic Period), Jurassic (Jurassic Period), and Cretaceous (Cretaceous Period)) of the Mesozoic Era (251 million to 66 million years ago). Although pterosaurs are not dinosaurs (dinosaur), both are archosaurs (archosaur), or “ruling reptiles,” a group to which birds (bird) and crocodiles (crocodile) also belong.Ancestors of pterosaurs tended toward a bipedal gait, which thus freed the forelimbs for other uses. These limbs evolved into wings (wing) in birds and pterosaurs, but, instead of feathers, pterosaurs developed a wing surface formed by a membrane of skin similar to that of bats (bat). In bats, however, all of the fingers except the thumb support the membrane. In pterosaurs, the membrane was attached solely to the elongated fourth finger (there was no fifth finger). The first three fingers were slender, clawed, clutching structures. When the pterosaur was not in flight, the finger and membrane were extended rearward along the flanks. In addition to the main flight membrane, an accessory membrane stretching between the shoulder and wrist reduced turbulence on the wing. The pterosaur wing appears to have been well adapted to flight. Embedded within it was a system of fine, long, keratinous (keratin) fibers that ran parallel to one another like the feather shafts of birds. This arrangement enhanced strength and maneuverability in flight.The body was compact, and the hind legs were long and slender, like those of birds, and were easily able to support the animal on land. Despite the considerable size of the forelimbs, the bones were hollow and thin-walled, which kept weight low. The skull, with its long, slender beak, was delicate but strong, with most of the component bones being fused. The eyes were large, and the eyeball was reinforced by a series of bony plates (sclerotic ring).The brain was large and apparently comparable in structure to that of birds, and, as in that group, sight rather than smell appears to have been the dominant sense. Most pterosaur remains are found in sediments close to what were bodies of water (fossils are well preserved in such places), so little is known about the diversity of forest or plains pterosaurs.Traditionally, two major groups of pterosaurs have been recognized. Rhamphorhynchoidea is a term that has included all the basal forms up to the Late Jurassic Period (161 million to 146 million years ago). These are typified by relatively long tails, long fifth toes, sharply pointed teeth, and only slightly elongated wing metacarpals (metacarpal) (palm bones). Rhamphorhynchoids were the first pterosaurs, and they are found in deposits from the Late Triassic Period (228 million to 200 million years ago). Genera of this group include Eudimorphodon and Peteinosaurus, both found in Italian Triassic deposits; these had wingspans of less than 1 metre (3.3 feet). Dimorphodon, from the Early Jurassic of England, was about 1.5 metres from wingtip to wingtip. Rhamphorhynchus was a late form from the Late Jurassic Period and had a wingspan of about 1 metre. It has long been realized, however, that Rhamphorhynchoidea is an artificial grouping of primitive forms, as some members are actually more closely related to the other major group of pterosaurs, the Pterodactyloidea (see pterodactyl). This group appeared in the Late Jurassic and survived into the Cretaceous, when the earlier forms of pterosaurs had become extinct. The earliest Late Jurassic pterodactyloid is Pterodactylus, of which numerous individuals are known from Solnhofen Limestone of Bavaria, Germany. Pteranodon, which grew to 7 metres, was also a Pterodactyloid. No pterosaur remains are more recent than the Cretaceous; their ecological roles were eventually taken over by birds.
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