Flying Dinosaurs: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Open a book about dinosaurs, and you're greeted with pictures of dinosaurs on the land and in the sky. But, are they all really dinosaurs? Read on to find out about those ancient reptiles in the sky.

Dinosaurs in the Sky?

All dinosaurs were reptiles, which are cold-blooded animals that lay eggs and are largely covered in scales. Dinosaurs didn't swim or fly. Their legs were positioned under their body rather than out of the side of their body (think about a crocodile).

So what you might have thought were flying dinosaurs were actually what scientists call flying reptiles, known as pterosaurs (pronounced tare-o-sores). Examples of pterosaurs were Pteranodon (tare-an-o-don) and Pterodactylus (tare-ah-dac-tuh-lus) . Aside from prehistoric insects, pterosaurs were the first known flying animals!

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs and flying reptiles lived at the same time and shared habitats. In fact, like dinosaurs, pterosaur fossils have been found all over the world. Fossil evidence suggests that flying reptiles date back as early as the Late Triassic period (about 220 million years ago) and flew the ancient skies until the end of the Cretaceous period (about 65 million years ago).

What Do They Look Like?

Over 130 recognized types of pterosaurs are recognized by paleontologists, scientists who study fossils. This means that there was a tremendous amount of variety between the different species of ancient flying reptiles. Some pterosaurs were large, like the Pteranodon, with a wingspan of up to 20 feet, while others had a wingspan of only about 10 inches. That's an amazing amount of diversity in one animal type!

The skeletal illustration of a pterosaur
Pterosaur skeletal illustration

Despite this great diversity, pterosaurs share many physical characteristics. Like a modern pelican (sea-dwelling bird), pterosaurs had a pouch made of skin hanging from their long neck. Most pterosaurs had a long skull full of sharp teeth resembling needles. Pterosaurs had bony or fleshy crests on their heads, and some even had a combination of both! It is thought that these crests were used to help the pterosaur find a mate, but that is a topic that is still up for debate.

Wing diagram of a pterosaur
Wing Diagram

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