Unveiling 15 Pterosaurs: The Marvelous Flying Dinosaurs

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 18th December 2023

Pteranodon 3D Illustration
Pteranodon was a terror in the sky – LindaMarieB via Istock

Millions of years ago, during the Triassic, long before modern vertebrates like birds and bats evolved the ability to fly, a group of flying reptiles evolved to become the lords of the skies.

At least 150 species of these incredible creatures known as pterosaurs have been identified so far. 

Contrary to popular assumptions, pterosaurs were not dinosaurs.

These enormous flying reptiles did evolve from the same ancestors as the dinosaurs and other reptilian groups of the Mesozoic Era.

They were apex predators in their own right, and some were even big enough to prey on dinosaurs.

In this post, we’ll unveil 15 of the most incredible reptiles in this group, discussing some of their attributes and what made them so special. 

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How Did Pterosaurs Qualify for This List?

The criterion to make this list was relatively straightforward.

The basic idea is that the creature had to be a member of any of the numerous families of flying reptiles that lived in the prehistoric past. 

Does Quetzalcoatlus make our list? – Kitti Kahotong via Istock

Our list cuts across different geologic times to allow us to capture all the different types of Pterosaurs that existed, from the more primitive ones to the very advanced ones that were alive towards the end of the Cretaceous. 

We have also included various pterosaurs of varying sizes, from giant dinosaur-munching beasts to smaller bird-like ones.

This showcases the diversity and unique adaptation of these flying reptiles when they were alive. 

The Top 15 Extraordinary Pterosaurs

15. Azhdarcho

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Azhdarcho Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Azhdarcho Concept
Name MeaningDragon-like
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Azhdarchidae
DietCarnivorous (potentially scavenging) or piscivorous
WingspanUp to 10 meters (33 feet)
Length4–6 meters (13–20 feet)
Weight100–250 kg (220–550 lbs)
LocationCentral Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan)

Although dragons are mythical, pterosaurs like the Azhdarcho are the closest things to a dragon you can find in real life.

This is why the name of this pterosaur is a reference to the mythical fire-breathing creature.

The name Azhdarcho is from the Persian word “azhdar” which means dragon. 

The family Azhdarchidae, which includes some of the largest pterosaurs ever found, derives its name from this Cretaceous Period pterosaur.

Azhdarcho itself was not as massive as some of its closest relatives.

It stood just about two meters tall and had a wingspan of about 4.5 meters (15 feet).

Given its size, it probably preyed on small to medium-sized terrestrial prey. 

14. Tupandactylus

Tupandactylus imperator / Dmitry Bogdanov – License
Name MeaningTupan finger
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Tapejaridae
DietLikely omnivorous
WingspanUp to 4 meters (13 feet)
Length 2–3 meters (6.6–9.8 feet)
Weight20–40 kg (44–88 lbs)
LocationSouth America (Brazil)

Many of the pterosaurs were known for their massive size, but some of them, like the South American Tupandactylus, didn’t reach such impressive sizes.

This flying reptile had a wingspan of just three to four meters (9.8 to 13.1 feet).

Although small by pterosaur standards, the Tupandactylus was larger than some of the biggest flying birds today. 

What this pterosaur lacked in size, it made up for with an impressive appearance.

The most distinct feature of Tupandactylus was its elaborate head crest made up of solid bone and soft tissue. 

The semicircular crest extended backward over the Tupandactylus’ snout, curving backward behind the head.

Experts think the crest may have been brightly colored and used for display and signaling, like the crest of toucans. 

This pterosaur lived during the Early Cretaceous Period and likely fed on fish.

However, some scientists think the Tupandactylus may have been a terrestrial forager capable of hunting small prey. 

13. Rhamphorhynchus

Rhamphorhynchus 3D Illustration
Rhamphorhynchus 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningBeak snout
EraMesozoic – Late Jurassic
ClassificationPterosauria, Rhamphorhynchidae, Rhamphorhynchini
Wingspan1 meter (3.3 feet)
Length0.4–0.6 meters (1.3–2 feet)
Weight0.3–0.7 kg (0.7–1.5 lbs)
LocationEurope (Germany, England)

Rhamphorhynchus lived during the Late Jurassic Period and is one of the best-known flying reptiles from that period.

The pterosaur is well-known to paleontologists, partly because it was discovered early in the 19th century but also because some well-preserved remains have been found. 

The best-preserved specimen of this pterosaur was recovered from the Solnhofen fossil beds in Germany.

Details of the pterosaur’s bone structure and an outline of its internal organs were preserved in this fossil.

These well-preserved fossils have provided valuable insights into pterosaur anatomy.

Although small in comparison to the larger pterosaurs that lived later in the Cretaceous, Rhamphorhynchus is still one of the biggest Jurassic pterosaurs. It had a 1ft long body, but the wingspan was up to three feet. 

12. Nyctosaurus

Nyctosaurus / Dmitry Bogdanov Crest fixed by FunkMonkLicense
Name MeaningNight Lizard
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Nyctosauridae
WingspanUp to 3 meters (10 feet)
Length2–3 meters (6.6–9.8 feet)
Weight2–5 kg (4.4–11 lbs)
LocationUnited States & Mexico

The Nyctosaurus’ name means “night lizard” or “bat lizard,” which refers to the bat-like wings of this flying reptile.

But with a wingspan of over 2.9 meters (9.5 feet), this pterosaur was obviously bigger than modern bats. 

While there were so many strange-looking weirdos in the pterosaur world, the Nyctosaurus had some impressive stuff going on with its look.

Fossils of this flying reptile have been discovered with a large crest at least 55 centimeters (1.80 feet) long.

This crest was up to three times the length of this pterosaur’s head and was longer than the rest of its body.

The crest was also split into two grooved spars, one pointing upward and the other pointing backward, giving the crest a prominent “L” shape.

Scientists think this large bony crest did not have an attachment of soft tissues like that of the crest of other pterosaurs.

As a result, they may have looked more like the antlers of a deer and were probably used for display purposes. 

11. Darwinopterus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Darwinopterus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Darwinopterus Concept
Name MeaningDarwin’s Wing
EraMesozoic – Late Jurassic
ClassificationPterosauria, Wukongopteridae, Wukongopterinae
WingspanUp to 1.5 meters (5 feet)
Length0.5–1 kg (1.1–2.2 lbs)
WeightAsia (China)
LocationNorth America (New Jersey)

Unlike other pterosaurs renowned for their massive size or the possession of colorful crests, what makes the Darwinopterus special is its position in the evolutionary history of the pterosaurs.

It lived during the Middle Jurassic Period (about 160 million years ago) and represented an important transitional form between the two main groups of pterosaurs; the older rhamphorhynchoids and the younger pterodactyloids. 

The skull of this pterosaur was more elongated compared to that of the basal pterosaurs but was not extremely long like that of the pterodactyloids.

The wing attachment of the Darwinopterus is also similar to the pterodactyloids despite having a long tail like the rhamphorhynchoids.

All of these confirm that the Darwinopterus was an intermediate form between these two groups.

Darwinopterus lived in a temperate forest on the Asian continent and was either an aerial predator of terrestrial habitats or an insectivore adapted to leaping and catching insects in the air. 

10. Anhanguera

Anhanguera Pterosaur 3D Illustration
Anhanguera Pterosaur 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningOld Devil
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Anhangueridae
Wingspan4.5 meters (14 feet)
Length2–3 meters (6.6–9.8 feet)
Weight20–40 kg (44–88 lbs)
LocationSouth America (Brazil)

Anhanguera was a fish-eating pterosaur that lived in South America and some parts of Africa during the Early Cretaceous Period. 

The most notable feature of this pterosaur was its unusually large head. 

The head had a keeled crest which was prominent but small compared to the crest of some of its closest relatives like the Coloborhynchus and Ornithocheirus.

The Anhanguera’s crests also began further down the skull instead of the tip of the snout, as it is with other related pterosaurs.

The crest was also more elongated than rounded.

Anhanguera had long, powerful wings.

The wingspan of this flying reptile was up to ‭‭‬4.5‭ ‬meters about 14 feet). It also had a long slender beak for catching prey.

This pterosaur lived in coastal environments and was capable of powered flight just above the water surface to catch prey.

The jaws of the Anhanguera were filled with conical teeth of various sizes that helped the reptile hold on to prey before it swallowed them. 

9. Pterodaustro

Pterodaustro 3D Render
Pterodaustro 3D Render / CoreyFord via Istock
Name MeaningWing of the southern region
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Ctenochasmatidae
DietFilter feeder, feeding on small organisms in water bodies
WingspanUp to 3 meters (9.8 feet)
Length0.7–1 meter (2.3–3.3 feet)
Weight9.2kg (20 lbs)
LocationNorth America (New Jersey)

Pterodaustro was a moderately-sized pterosaur that lived in South America approximately 105 to 70 million years ago (Late Cretaceous Period).

It had a wingspan of about three meters (9.8 feet) and may have weighed about 9.2 kilograms (20 pounds).

One of the most distinctive features of this pterosaur was its elongated beak which was similar in appearance and function to that of a flamingo.

The extremely long beak of this reptile formed up to 85% of the 11-inch-long skull. The lower jaws had about a thousand bristle-like teeth.

This unique beak suggests that the Pterodaustro’s diet differed from that of several other flying reptiles that lived around the same period.

This beak was specialized for filter-feeding, which means Pterodaustro primarily consumed small organisms in the water, such as crustaceans, algae, plankton, and other small marine invertebrates. 

8. Dsungaripterus

Dsungaripterus 3D Illustration
Dsungaripterus 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningDzungarian wing
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Dsungaripteridae
WingspanUp to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet)
Length2–3 meters (6.6–9.8 feet)
Weight20–40 kg (44–88 lbs)
LocationAsia (China, Kazakhstan)

Pterosaurs were not the most attractive prehistoric creatures, and Dsungaripterus had one of the funkiest looks in this group.

This Early Cretaceous pterosaur had a bulky head with upward-curving jaws.

The upper jaw had a  pointed tip that gave it a weird appearance.

It also had a large cranial crest that extended from the base of the skull to about half the length of its beak.

Due to this odd appearance, the Dsungaripterus is often considered “the ugliest pterosaur.” 

Dsungaripterus was a medium-sized pterosaur.

It had a wingspan of about 3.5 meters. The head and neck of this pterosaur were almost one meter (3.3 feet) long.

The weird, upward-pointing beak of this pterosaur suggests that it had a unique diet. 

Scientists think it fed primarily on shellfish, using its curved toothless snout to lift the crustaceans or mollusks out of the bottom mud like a crowbar.

The teeth at the back of its jaw also looked suited for cracking animal shells instead of tearing into soft-bodied prey like fish.  

7. Ctenochasma

Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Ctenochasma Concept
Name MeaningComb jaw
EraMesozoic – Late Jurassic
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Ctenochasmatidae
WingspanUp to 2 meters (6.6 feet)
Length0.8–1.2 meters (2.6–3.9 feet)
Weight0.5–2 kg (1.1–4.4 lbs)
LocationEurope (Germany, England)

Ctenochasma is the first identified member of the Ctenochasmatidae, a group of large pterosaurs characterized by their distinctive dentition and filter-feeding habit.

These pterosaurs lived during the Jurassic Period about 161 million years ago.

The most distinctive feature of the Ctenochasma was its elongated snout which was packed with as many as 400 thin teeth.

The teeth were closely packed to form a comb for sifting through the water. 

Although this might indicate a regular filter-feeding lifestyle similar to some of its closest relatives like the Pterodaustro, the arrangement of the teeth suggests an even more specialized feeding habit more similar to that of some modern birds like the spoonbill.

The Ctenochasma fed by gulping a large mouthful of water, then filtering out the excess liquid from their mouth, leaving just the prey for them to swallow. 

6. Tropeognathus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Tropeognathus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Tropeognathus Concept
Name MeaningKeel jaw
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Ornithocheirae
WingspanUp to 8.7 meters (28.5 feet)
Length3–5 meters (9.8–16.4 feet)
Weight50–100 kg (110–220 lbs)
LocationEurope (England), Africa (Morocco)

Tropeognathus lived during the Late Cretaceous Period in present-day South America.

With a wingspan of about 8.70 meters (28.5 feet), this pterosaur is one of the largest flying reptiles ever found.

In fact, it is the largest pterosaur found so far in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tropeognathus was an active aerial fisher that hunted in the lakes and marine environments of Cretaceous South America.

Tropeognathus and some of its closest relatives are characterized by their possession of large bony crests on their snouts.

The Tropeognathus’ snouts were even broader and larger compared to those of its closest relatives.

The crests may have served display or species recognition purposes.

They also had a less prominent crest on their lower jaw, and both crests were probably brightly colored.

Another popular theory was that the semi-circular snouts helped the pterosaur keep its snouts stable when dipping it into the water to catch prey, similar to the keel on a boat. 

5. Pterodactylus

Pterodactylus with fish in beak 3D Render / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningWing finger
EraMesozoic – Late Jurassic
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Euctenochasmatia
WingspanUp to 1.04 meters (3.41 feet)
Length0.6–1 meter (2–3.3 feet)
Weight0.5–1 kg (1.1–2.2 lbs)
LocationEurope (Germany)

Although not a particularly big pterosaur, Pterodactylus is arguably one of the most important pterosaurs ever found.

Discovered in 1784,  Pterodactylus was the first pterosaur and also the first reptile ever discovered. 

Pterodactylus lived in Europe and Africa during the Late Jurassic Period (150.8 to 148.5 million years ago). 

Pterodactylus was a relatively small pterosaur.

The wingspan of this pterosaur was about 1.04 meters (3 feet 5 inches). It had a long and slender skull and had up to 90 conical teeth in its narrow jaw.

It also had a crest that extended from the upper jaw to the back of the skull.

The crest was made up of soft tissue and was probably brightly colored.

Experts think Pterodactylus was a generalist carnivore which means it fed on various vertebrates and invertebrate animals in its habitat.

4. Dimorphodon

Dimorphodon 3D illustration
Dimorphodon 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningTwo-form tooth
EraMesozoic – Early Jurassic
ClassificationPterosauria, Macronychoptera, Dimorphodontidae
WingspanUp to 1.5 meters (5 feet)
Length0.6–1 meter (2–3.3 feet)
Weight0.5–1 kg (1.1–2.2 lbs)
LocationEurope (Germany)

Dimorphodon is one of the earliest-known pterosaurs. It lived during the Early Jurassic Period (about 200 million years ago).

As such, it had many primitive features, including a short wingspan and a long tail. 

Dimorphodon had a large skull that was bigger and looked remarkably different from that of other pterosaurs.

The bulky skull, which measured 23 centimeters (9.1 inches), was more similar to that of terrestrial theropod dinosaurs.

The Dimorphodon’s entire body was about one meter (3.3 feet) long, and it had a wingspan of roughly 1.45 meters (4.6 feet). 

But even more interesting is the fact that this pterosaur had two sets of teeth in its jaws.

It had longer fang-like teeth in front of its jaws, probably used for snagging and holding on to prey.

The second set of teeth was flatter and more suited for grinding food. The pterosaur’s name translates as “two-form tooth,” which refers to this unique dentition.

3. Pteranodon

Pteranodon 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningToothless wing
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Pteranodontidae
WingspanUp to 6 meters (20 feet)
Length3–6 meters (9.8–19.7 feet)
Weight20–90 kg (44–198 lbs)
LocationNorth America (United States, Canada)

Pteranodon is one of the most well-known pterosaurs.

This massive flying reptile lived in North America about 90 million to 100 million years ago.

Scientists have found at least 1200 fossils of this dinosaur, most of them well-preserved, providing a clear picture of what it might have looked like. 

Pteranodon had a large wingspan of up to six meters (20 feet) but a relatively small body.

Its relatively small head was adorned with a massive crest which helped to counterbalance the huge toothless jaws.

They probably used their crest for sexual display as well. Pteranodon also had long legs and a short tail. 

Pteranodon probably lived in flocks and had an active piscivore diet.

The sharp, pointed, and upward-curving beaks of this flying reptile helped them to catch prey in marine environments.

Fossils of this pterosaur have been discovered with fish remains inside them, which confirms their fish-eating habit. 

2. Quetzalcoatlus

Quetzalcoatlus 3D Illustration
Quetzalcoatlus 3D Illustration / Warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningFeathered serpent
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Azhdarchidae
WingspanUp to 12.2 meters (40 feet)
Length5–6 meters (16.4–19.7 feet)
Weight200–250 kg (440–550 lbs)
LocationNorth America (United States, Mexico)

Named after the Mayan serpent god Kulkukan (Quetzalcóatl), Quetzalcoatlus was the largest flying animal ever found.

It lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, soaring over the western interior of North America.

This massive pterosaur had a wingspan of up to 40 feet, a size comparable to the wingspan of some small airplanes like Cessna 172 light aircraft.

Quetzalcoatlus belongs to the family Azhdarchidae, a group of advanced pterosaurs known for their massive skulls and unusually long necks.

Its neck was up to six feet long, and the crested skull was at least four feet long.

Their skull ended with a sharp-pointed beak with no teeth, similar to that of storks. 

Unlike modern birds, the Quetzalcoatlus was not covered in feathers.

Instead, their entire body, including their wings, was covered with hair.

They were warm-blooded like dinosaurs and may have hunted like them too.

The Quetzalcoatlus was most likely a terrestrial predator that targeted small vertebrates. 

1. Hatzegopteryx

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Hatzegopteryx Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Hatzegopteryx Concept
Name MeaningHațeg basin wing
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationPterosauria, Pterodactyloidea, Azhdarchidae
Wingspan10–12 meters (33–39 feet)
Length4–5 meters (13–16.4 feet)
Weight200–300 kg (440–660 lbs)
LocationEurope (Romania)

The giraffe-sized Hatzegopteryx was one of the most unusual flying reptiles ever found.

That’s primarily because of its large size. It is one of the largest pterosaurs with a size that rivaled that of the famous Quetzalcoatlus.

But what’s even more unusual is the fact that this flying reptile was heavily-built.

It had a gigantic skull with an estimated length of three meters (9.8 feet).

If this estimate is right, then the Hatzegopteryx’s head is one of the biggest skulls of all non-marine animals ever found.

Having such a bulky build is unusual for an animal that has to fly.

To support such a bulky weight in the air, Hatzegopteryx had a wingspan of about 10–12 meters (33–39 feet) in length (about the same size as the Quetzalcoatlus).

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Hatzegopteryx Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Hatzegopteryx Size Comparison Chart

Another unusual fact about the Hatzegopteryx was the location where it lived.

Fossils of this pterosaur were found on Hateg island, which was isolated from mainland Europe.

As a result, most dinosaur species on the island were relatively small compared to their mainland counterparts.

Hatzegopteryx seemed to have been an exception to this rule.

Growing to such a massive proportion amid dwarf dinosaurs meant this pterosaur was an apex predator that probably ate dinosaurs for lunch. 


Most conversations about the prehistoric world often focus on the massive dinosaurs that ruled the terrestrial habitats or the ferocious reptiles in marine ecosystems.

This list shows that the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic Era were just as diverse as those on land.

The pterosaurs showed various unique adaptations, not just in terms of their ability to fly but also in their feeding, habitat, and reproduction.

Tell us which of these flying reptiles you find most fascinating!


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