Pterosaurs Leave New York

AMNH illustration of Mary Anning’s Dimorphodon. Courtesy: AMNH.

AMNH illustration of Mary Anning’s Dimorphodon. Courtesy: AMNH.

They came from all over the world to hang out for the ball drop, but will be gone by the time of the Super Bowl. Yes, the crazy cast of characters in the American Museum of Natural History’s show, Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of the Dinosaurs, will decamp for their hometowns tomorrow, January 4 just like everyone else who came to New York and had a blast.

Quetzalcoatlus, Tropeognathus, and “Dark Wing” have been putting on quite a show for AMNH visitors since April, and only time will tell if New Yorkers have learned to stop calling them “dinosaurs.” They are flying reptiles.

AMNH illustration of super-tiny Nemicolopterus from China (10 inches) proves that not all pterosaurs were giants. He lived in the forest.

AMNH illustration of super-tiny Nemicolopterus from China (10 inches) proves that not all pterosaurs were giants. He lived in the forest.

The show features life-sized replicas of these flying machines and the big celebrity “Dark Wing” from Germany – the only pterosaur fossil yet found with impressions of the amazing wing membrane that contains layers and layers of thin muscle, all suspended from a single finger.

Get to know more about these amazing animals in the intro to the show, complete with a peppy soundtrack created by the Museum’s digital divas:

 

When Mary (“She Sells Sea Shells…”) Anning went scouting along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in 1828, she found little Dimorphodon and sold it to Mr. Buckland, starting a scientific quest to determine the exact nature of these enigmatic creatures.

Happy Ptreranodon in the Vertebrate Origins hall before the crew made him a star of the show inside the Lefrak Gallery.

Happy Ptreranodon in the Vertebrate Origins hall before the crew made him a star of the show inside the Lefrak Gallery.

Most of the press at the time went gaga for the pterodactyl found in Bavaria during the 1830s and 1840s, named Pterodactylus by Mr. Cuvier. Pterosaur fossils have been around so long that it’s hard to believe that this New York show is the first time that these non-dinos have gotten the full star treatment.

Co-curators Mark Norell and Alexander Kellner and the AMNH exhibitions squad took on the jumbo challenge of mounting this first-ever museum show devoted solely to the vertebrates who “invented” flight. Yes, before birds (or bats) took to the skies, fuzzy-bodied pterosaurs were dive-bombing Mesozoic fish, launching from beaches, and leaving their unmistakable footprints on mudflats all over the ancient world.

Click here to see paleontologists searching for pterosaur footprints on an ancient Upper Jurassic beach in central Wyoming.

Pterosaur tracks in the Wyoming sandstone. Crooked forelimb print (L), hindfoot print (R). Taken on a 2006 trackway field trip with the Tate Museum.

Pterosaur tracks in the Wyoming sandstone. Crooked forelimb print (L), hindfoot print (R). Taken on a 2006 trackway field trip with the Tate Museum.

We couldn’t take photos inside the AMNH show of the beautiful pterosaur trackway from the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal, Utah, so this Flickr slide show gives you the idea. The shots were taken ten years ago, when paleontologists were still debating whether pterosaurs were bipedal or quadrupedal. As you can see, these Jurassic pterosaurs left quadrupedal tracks.

It’s doubtful that these flying marvels stayed on the beach for long. Watch here to see how gigantic Quetzalcoatlus and friends took off via the animations by the AMNH digital team, based on Michael Habib’s analytics and simulations. You’ll be surprised by what airplanes and pterosaurs have in common:

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One thought on “Pterosaurs Leave New York

  1. This has got to be my favorite of your posts. I’m taking a writing course next week but doubt they can teach this. You write so beautifully. Xoxo A

    Arlene Katz

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