Why are Pterosaurs sometimes called Pterodactyls?

By |2023-01-14T14:26:05+00:00December 22nd, 2010|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|2 Comments

The Confusion over Pterodactyls

As far as scientists have been able to ascertain from the fossil record, only a very few types of dinosaur evolved the ability of flight.  Of course, technically birds, of which there are something like 10,000 species today; evolved flight and these creatures could be classified as avian dinosaurs.  However, setting aside the Aves (birds) for one moment we know that the early Mesozoic skies came to be dominated by another group of reptiles – pterosaurs.  Pterosaurs seem to have evolved sometime in the Middle Triassic.  Over the course of the next 160 million  years or so, they diversified into a myriad of different forms.  Some of these creatures were no bigger than blackbirds, others, for example a group known as the Azhdarchidae; evolved into flying reptiles the size of small aircraft.  However, all pterosaurs had the same basic skeleton and body plan.

A Replica of a Pterosaur


A colourful model of the pterosaur called Anhanguera by Schleich. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view models and replicas of prehistoric animals in the Schleich model range: Schleich Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models.


Pterosaurs (flying or winged lizards) are sometimes referred to as pterodactyls (winged fingers).  Pterodactyl is the name for just one particular family of pterosaurs, and in particular for a German flying reptile called Pterodactylus.  Fossils of Pterodactylus were found in the 19th century and remain some of the most complete and best preserved of all pterosaur fossils.  The name pterodactyl became quite well known and used a lot in popular culture and as a result the name “pterodactyl” – a term used colloquially to describe all pterosaurs became established.