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How Were Pterosaurs Adapted for Flight?

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Published on Apr 17, 2014

Pterosaurs were the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight—not just leaping or gliding, but flapping their wings to generate lift and travel through the air. They evolved into dozens of species: Some were as large as an F-16 fighter jet, and others as small as a paper airplane.

Pterosaurs flew with their forelimbs: Their long, tapering wings evolved from the same body part as our arms. As pterosaurs' arm and hand bones evolved for flying, they lengthened, and the bones of one finger—the equivalent of our ring finger—became extraordinarily long. Like the mast on a ship, these bones supported the wing surface, a thin flap of skin that was shaped like a sail.

Although many animals can glide through the air, pterosaurs, birds and bats are the only vertebrates that have evolved to fly by flapping their wings. All three groups descended from animals that lived on the ground, and their wings evolved in a similar way: their forelimbs gradually became long, bladelike and aerodynamic.

Although they have much in common, pterosaurs, birds and bats developed the ability to fly independently. Their wings evolved along different paths, and the difference can be seen in their structure.

Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is on view from April 5, 2014, through January 4, 2015. Learn more about the exhibition at http://www.amnh.org/pterosaurs.

Episode 1: What Is a Pterosaur?
http://youtu.be/VCr1aZ3AAwo

Episode 2: Why Are Pterosaur Fossils So Rare?
http://youtu.be/M-5C5R0zajI

Episode 3: Why Did Pterosaurs Have Crests?
http://youtu.be/HlxAxJnJe4I

Episode 4: How are Pterosaur Names Pronounced?
http://youtu.be/JKPYDGKdEzY

Episode 5: How Were Pterosaurs Adapted for Flight?
http://youtu.be/erwczioi9us

Episode 6: Meet the Paleontologists
http://youtu.be/1VukMb4yk5M

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VIDEO CREDITS:

Executive Producer
Hélène Alonso

Director/Editor/Writer
Sarah Galloway

Consultant/Writer
Michael B. Habib

Animation
Camila Engelbert
Joshua Krause

Media Systems Designer
Ariel Nevarez

Editorial Support
Lauri Halderman
Alexandra Nemecek
Martin Schwabacher

Graphic Design
Kelvin Chiang
Dan Ownbey
Catharine Weese

Music
"Everlong Song" by G. Small and F. Gerard/
Warner Chappell Production Music

Footage/Stills Courtesy of
Holger Babinsky, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
Craig Chesek/AMNH
Footage Bank HD
Nature Footage
Pond5
Shutterstock

Footage Research
José Ramos
Rosemary Rotondi

Narration
Melynda Sims

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