An Ultimate Guide to Dimorphodon: The Two-Form Tooth

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 23rd September 2023

Name Meaning“Two-Form Tooth”Wingspan1.45 meters (4.6 feet)
PronunciationDi-more-fo-donLength1 meter (3.3 feet) 
EraMesozoicEarly Jurassic Weight2 kg (4.5 lbs)
ClassificationPterosauria, Macronychoptera, DimorphodontidaeLocationEngland (Europe)

Dimorphodon Pterosaur Pictures

Dimorphodon | CoreyFord via iStock

The Dimorphodon

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Dimorphodon Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Dimorphodon Concept

The pterosaurs were a group of flying reptiles that were alive throughout most of the Mesozoic era (starting from the Late Triassic till the end of the Cretaceous).

Although they weren’t dinosaurs, pterosaurs lived alongside the dinosaurs and diversified into different groups and genera between 226 and 66 million years ago.

The Dimorphodon is one of the earliest known genera in this group.

The medium-sized pterosaur lived during the Early Jurassic Period in parts of Europe. 

Controversial from the start, scientists have struggled with describing the anatomical features of this reptile, and classifying it correctly has been challenging too.

Other aspects of the flying reptile’s life, including whether or not it was capable of flight and even in its diet, are still being debated despite being discovered more than 150 years ago.

This post details some of the scientific information we know about the “two-form tooth.” 

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Physical Characteristics 

Illustration of dimorphodon
Illustration of a Dimorphodon | MR1805 via iStock

Dimorphodon is a genus of medium-sized flying reptiles (pterosaur) from the early Jurassic Period of England.

It was about one meter (3.3 feet) long and had a wingspan of about 1.45 meters (4.6 feet). 

Dimorphodon looked like a typical pterosaur except for a massive head and super-sized jaws, which looked completely out of place.

These were the most prominent features of this pterosaur. The bulky skull alone measured at least 23 centimeters (9.1 inches) in length.

The Dimorphodon’s beak may have resembled that of a short-billed Toucan or puffin.

Although there’s no direct evidence, it is often depicted as brightly colored, suggesting that the dinosaur used it for display purposes. 

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

Despite being oversized, the Dimorphodon’s head would not have posed much of a problem to this dinosaur, mainly because it was lightweight.

The entire skull was not made up of solid bone. Instead, there is a skull gap that would have been replaced and covered with softer tissue instead of a bone mass.

This made the larger head of this pterosaur a lot less cumbersome. Dimorphodon also had a short flexible neck with a membranous pouch on its underside. 

The massive jaws of this dinosaur had two sets of teeth that were adapted to different purposes.

Dimorphodon, a carnivorous pterosaur reptile from the Jurassic Period, inhabited England with its distinct reptilian head.
Dimorphodon, a carnivorous pterosaur reptile from the Jurassic Period, inhabited England with its distinct reptilian head | Corey Ford via GettyImages

The dinosaur’s name, which translates as “two-form tooth,” is a reference to this unique dentition.

The upper jaw had longer and sharper teeth that reduced in size towards the back of the Dimorphodon’s mouth.

This size and arrangement of these teeth suggest that they were well-suited for prey capture.

On the other hand, the teeth on the lower jaw were smaller and looked like they were suited for gripping prey. 

The rest of the Dimorphodon’s body follows a typical pterosaur body plan.

It was bipedal and had primitive wings which supported some form of flight.

The Dimorphodon’s wings consisted of a thin skin membrane that stretched from the pterosaur’s elongated fourth finger of each hand and was attached to the hindlimbs or hips. 

It also had a long tail which consisted of up to 30 vertebrae.

The first five or six of these vertebrae were short and flexible. The remaining bones were stiffened and elongated.

The end of the Dimorphodon’s tail bore a vane similar to that of the Rhamphorhynchus

Habitat and Distribution 

The first fossils of the Dimorphodon were recovered from a town called Lyme Regis, located on the coast of Southern England.

A different species was also recovered from the La Boca Formation in Mexico.

Both fossils date back to the Early Jurassic period. The discovery of the pterosaur fossil in these locations suggests that the different species of Dimorphodon lived in both North America and Europe.

This isn’t very far-fetched, considering the fact that both continents were a lot closer together than their current location.

The supercontinent, Pangea, started breaking up during the Jurassic, forming two separate land masses.

The northern continent called Laurasia consisted of present-day North America, Europe, and Asia.

Illustration of Dimorphodon Soaring Across Arid Terrain
Illustration of Dimorphodon Soaring Across Arid Terrain | MR1805 via iStock

This explains the presence of fossils of Dimorphodon in these locations. 

The Dimorphodon fossils recovered so far come from areas that were coastal plains back in the Jurassic.

This is consistent with the general habitat that most pterosaurs lived in. However, some experts believe Dimorphodon was not a strong flier.

As such, this pterosaur may have been adapted to an arboreal lifestyle similar to flying squirrels. 

Behavior and Diet 

Illustration of dimorphodon gracefully soars into the sky
Illustration of Dimorphodon gracefully soars into the sky | MR1805 via iStock

Scientists believe that most pterosaurs were well-adapted fliers by the Jurassic period.

This is why many assumed Dimorphodon was great at flying in the early years of its discovery.

However, recent studies have revealed that this might not be accurate. 

Dimorphodon’s anatomy may have made the flight a little difficult.

Although the pterosaur’s skeleton was lightweight, it was still quite robust.

The wings were also proportionately smaller compared to the reptile’s body, and this would have made flight difficult.

As a result, many experts now think Dimorphodon relied on short bursts of flight (most likely from tree to tree) and was incapable of flying over long distances. 

Dimorphodon on white background | Julio Lacerda via Pteros

On land, Dimorphodon walked with a bipedal stance.

The pterosaur kept its wing folded back and up on its side while moving.

In this position, the Dimorphodon was able to walk smoothly on the ground without being obstructed by the wings.

Dimorphodon was also a competent climber, which further validates the idea that it moved mainly by gliding from tree to tree. 

In terms of diet, scientists believe Dimorphodon was an insectivore rather than a piscivore (fish eater) like other pterosaurs.

The jaw musculature and dentition of the Dimorphodon were adapted to snapping and holding on to prey, and this suggests that they caught terrestrial insects for food.

The fact that this pterosaur was probably not well-adapted for flight also shows that it was probably not an ocean-flying fish hunter like its relatives.

However, Dimorphodon may have also eaten small vertebrates or scavenged on carrion occasionally. 

Life Cycle

Dimorphodon was a formidable hunter in the ancient skies
Dimorphodon was a formidable hunter in the ancient skies | Corey Ford via GettyImages

Although there’s limited direct evidence to explain the Dimorphodon’s reproduction and life cycle, evidence from other pterosaurs suggests that it reproduced sexually.

Females laid eggs with leathery eggs similar to that of many present-day lizards.

However, their eggs may have been small compared to the adult size of the parents. 

There’s abundant evidence that suggests that pterosaur embryos had well-developed wings.

This suggests that young Dimorphodons may have been able to move and possibly fly shortly after hatching.

Their wing proportions were also similar to that of adult individuals, further supporting the assertion that they could fly. 

Dimorphodon was a carnivorous flying pterosaur that lived in the Jurassic Period of England.
Dimorphodon was a carnivorous flying pterosaur that lived in the Jurassic Period of England | Corey Ford via GettyImages

Based on this evidence, it is likely that juvenile Dimorphodons received limited parental care.

Instead, they were left to fend for themselves within days or weeks of hatching.

The growth rate of the Dimorphodon can be compared to that of the Rhamphorhynchus.

They grew very fast, but their growth rate slowed after maturity. 

Evolution and History

Dimorphodon reptiles fly over a herd of Mamenchisaurus dinosaurs coming down to a river for a drink.
Dimorphodon reptiles fly over a herd of Mamenchisaurus dinosaurs coming down to a river for a drink | Stocktrek Images via GettyImages

Generally, the flying reptiles are believed to have evolved from the same common ancestors as the dinosaurs.

Their ancestors were small, bipedal reptiles that lived on the supercontinent Pangea during the Triassic period (237 to 210 million years ago). 

Although they would later evolve into large flying beasts with massive wingspans that dominated the skies in the Cretaceous, the earliest pterosaurs were smaller.

The Dimorphodon was among the oldest members of the group.

In fact, the Dimorphodon is among the earliest known flying reptiles. 

Scientists are still uncertain about how pterosaurs evolved their ability to fly.

In order to gain this ability to fly, primitive pterosaurs evolved an extremely long fourth “finger” on which the membranous skin that formed their wings was anchored.

Omeisaurus dinosaurs wade in a river as dimorphodons fly overhead.
Omeisaurus dinosaurs wade in a river as Dimorphodons fly overhead | Stocktrek Images via GettyImages

They also developed a pronounced crest on their arm bone and humerus, which served as attachments for flying muscles. 

If the theory about the Dimorphodon’s inability to sustain flight is right, it would mean that members of this genus experienced a case of secondary flightlessness.

This is because older genera, such as Preondactylus, which lived millions of years before the Dimorphdon, was a good flier.

The reason for this secondary flightlessness in the Dimorphodon is still unclear.

Scientists think Dimorphodon and a few members of the pterosaur family may have evolved to abandon flight, given the unique nature of their environments.

They developed longer limbs and well-developed appendages, which made them more effective than terrestrial pterosaurs. 

Interaction With Other Species

A Dimorphodon pterosaur chasing an insect
A Dimorphodon pterosaur chasing an insect |
Stocktrek Images via GettyImages

Dimorphodon lived during the Early Jurassic period.

During this time, the earth’s vertebrate fauna was experiencing significant change with the emergence of several new animal groups.

Along with the pterosaurs, other archosaurs (dinosaurs and crocodiles) were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Dimorphodon lived alongside large carnivorous dinosaurs and marine reptiles that could prey on it and may have also competed for similar food sources.

Dimorphodon’s small size and flying capabilities may have allowed it to evade some of these terrestrial predators.

The dinosaur’s insectivorous diet also meant it mostly targeted insects, leaving other terrestrial prey for the bigger carnivores.

This differentiation in the ecological niche would have reduced competition between the species.

Within its habitat, Dimorphodon may have faced stiffer competition for resources and nesting sites from other pterosaurs.

Dimorphodon in full flight through prehistoric skies
Dimorphodon in full flight through prehistoric skies | Dinosaurs 20 via Jurassic Wiki

Older pterosaurs, such as Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus, probably occupied the same ecological niches as this pterosaur.

Additionally, early birds or other small reptiles may have occupied overlapping niches, hunting and feeding on insects as well. 

As an insectivorous predator, Dimorphodon would have had an abundance of insect prey to feed on.

Insects were the most abundant terrestrial invertebrates at the time.

They included different groups such as the odonates (damselflies and dragonflies), dipterans (flies), and coleopterans (beetles).

Jurassic insects were significantly bigger than present-day varieties.

Dimorphodon used its sharp teeth and beak to capture and consume its prey. 

Cultural Significance 

Dimorphodon reptiles fly past a herd of Brachiosaurus dinosaurs
Dimorphodon reptiles fly past a herd of Brachiosaurus dinosaurs | Stocktrek Images via GettyImages

As one of the earliest and most well-known pterosaurs, the discovery of the Dimorphodon has proven to be very important to pterosaur research.

The dinosaur has contributed in some ways to our understanding of the anatomy and evolutionary history of this unique and diverse group of flying reptiles. 

While fossil evidence for this pterosaur is not very abundant, studying the limited fossils available has provided some insight into the changes in anatomy and flight capability that some pterosaurs underwent during the pterosaurs during the Jurassic period.

In the past, early pterosaurs were generally considered to be strong fliers, but the discovery of weak fliers like the Dimorphodon calls assumptions like this into question. 

Dimorphodon was also one of the first pterosaurs to be scientifically described.

Fossils of this pterosaur were discovered in the early 19th century and named by paleontologist Richard Owen in 1859.

Cast of a fossil Dimorphodon macronyx | Tim Evanson via Wikipedia
CC BY-SA 2.0

Dimorphodon played a significant role in the early study of pterosaurs and also helped in establishing the recognition of these creatures as a distinct group of Mesozoic creatures. 

Dimorphodon’s distinctive appearance and status as an early pterosaur have made it a popular figure in popular culture.

“Walking with Dinosaurs,” the groundbreaking BBC documentary series released in 1999, depicted various prehistoric creatures, including Dimorphodon.

Dimorphodon also appeared in the fourth installment of the popular “Jurassic Park” franchise in 2015.

In the movie, Dimorphodon was depicted as one of the pterosaurs on Isla Nublar, the fictional island where the dinosaur theme park is located. 

In addition to these famous references, several documentaries, books, and scientific literature have been published that depicted this dinosaur and its closest relatives. 


Dimorphodon was a genus of flying reptiles that lived during the Early Jurassic period.

Fossils of this dinosaur have been discovered in Europe and North America.

As a pterosaur discovered in the early 19th century, Dimorphodon has been well-studied and described.

Yet, there are still a number of controversies about this dinosaur’s life and habits, including what it looked like, what it ate, and how it lived. 

The current consensus is that it was an insectivorous pterosaur that may have been better adapted to an arboreal lifestyle instead of being an active, strong flier like other pterosaurs.

Future discoveries and additional scientific research may reveal more interesting facts and fill in some of the gaps about this flying reptile. 


What does the name “Dimorphodon” mean?

The name “Dimorphodon” is derived from Greek words: “di,” meaning “two,” “morph,” meaning “shape,” and “odon,” meaning “tooth.”

It refers to the distinctive feature of this pterosaur having two different types of teeth in its jaws.

When did Dimorphodon live?

Dimorphodon lived during the Jurassic period, specifically the Toarcian to Aalenian stages, which spanned from approximately 200 to 175 million years ago.

Who discovered Dimorphodon

The first Dimorphodon fossil was collected by Mary Anning, and it was named by the renowned British paleontologist Richard Owen.

The fossils of Dimorphodon were found in the early 19th century in England, specifically in the region around Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Richard Owen formally described and named the species in 1859 based on these fossil remains. 

Was Dimorphodon a real dinosaur?

No, Dimorphodon was not a dinosaur.

It was a primitive flying reptile, also known as a pterosaur.

Although pterosaurs and dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor, they’re not the same. 


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