name = "Pteranodon"
fossil_range = Mid-Late Cretaceous

image_width = 220px
image_caption = "Pteranodon sternbergi"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Sauropsida
ordo = Pterosauria
subordo = Pterodactyloidea
superfamilia = Ornithocheiroidea
familia = Pteranodontidae
genus = "Pteranodon"
genus_authority = Marsh, 1876
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision =
* "P. longiceps" (type)
* "P. sternbergi"

"Pteranodon" (pronEng|tɨˈrænədɒn; from Greek πτερ- "wing" and αν-οδων "toothless"), from the Late Cretaceous (Coniacian-Campanian, 89.3-70.6 million years ago) of North America (Kansas, Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota), was one of the largest pterosaur genera, with a wingspan of up to unit length|m|9.


Unlike earlier pterosaurs such as "Rhamphorhynchus" and "Pterodactylus", "Pteranodon" had toothless beaks, similar to those of modern birds.

"Pteranodon" fossils were found first (1870) in the Late Cretaceous chalk Smoky Hill Chalk of western Kansas. These chalk beds were deposited at the bottom of what was once a large epicontinental sea over what is now midsection of the North American continent. While the first "Pteranodon" wing bones were collected by Marsh (1870) and Cope (1871), the first "Pteranodon" skull was found on May 2, 1876, along the Smoky Hill River in Wallace County (now Logan County), Kansas, USA, by S. W. Williston, a fossil collector working for Othniel C. Marsh.

The Smoky Hill Chalk is the upper part of the Niobrara Formation and is famous for the fossils collected there since 1869. Other fossils found in this formation include those of sea turtles, mosasaurs, and early birds with teeth. [Bennett SC. (2000) Inferring stratigraphic position of fossil vertebrates from the Niobrara Chalk of western Kansas. Current Research in Earth Sciences, "Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin" 244, Part 1, 26 p]

"Pteranodon" were reptiles, but not dinosaurs. By definition, all dinosaurs were diapsid reptiles with an upright stance, and consist of the group containing saurischians and ornithischians. While the advanced pterodactyloid pterosaurs (like "Pteranodon") had a semi-upright stance, it evolved independently of the upright stance in dinosaurs, and pterosaurs lacked the distinctive adaptations in the hip associated with the dinosaurian posture. However, dinosaurs and pterosaurs may have been closely related, and most paleontologists place them together in the group Ornithodira, or "bird necks".

Discovery and species

A number of species of "Pteranodon" have been named since 1870, with the most well-supported of them being the type species, "P. longiceps". This species was named by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1876 from a fairly complete specimen collected by S.W. Williston. This individual had a wingspan of unit length|m|7.cite book |last=Wellnhofer |first=Peter |authorlink=Peter Wellnhofer |title=The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs |origyear=1991 |year=1996 |publisher=Barnes and Noble Books |location=New York |isbn=0-7607-0154-7 |pages=139 ] [Identified as "P. ingens" in Wellnhofer, 1991.] Other valid species include the possibly larger "P. sternbergi", with a wingspan of unit length|m|9,. "P. occidentalis", "P. velox", "P. umbrosus", "P. harpyia", and "P. comptus" are considered to be nomen dubium by Bennett (1994) and others. All are probably synonymous with the more well-known species.

"Pteranodon sternbergi" is the first known species of "Pteranodon" with an upright-crest. The lower jaw of "P. sternbergi" was 1.25 meters (4 ft) long. It was collected by G.F. Sternberg in 1952 and described by Harksen in 1966, and is currently believed to be ancestral of the later species "Pteranodon longiceps". [ [] Retrieved on May 7th, 2008.] See also paper by H.W. Miller (1971) [Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (1903-), Vol. 74, No. 1 (Spring, 1971), pp. 1-19 (article consists of 19 pages)]

Although the first description of "Pteranodon" (initially called "Pterodactylus Oweni") by Marsh erroneously noted it had teeth (1982, p. 244), he subsequently described "Pteranodon" as "distinguished from all previously known genera of the order {pterosauria} by the entire absence of teeth." This meant that any toothless pterosaur jaw fragment, wherever it was found in the world, tended to be attributed to "Pteranodon". Hence there came to be a plethora of species and a great deal of confusion. The name became a wastebasket taxon, rather like the dinosaur "Megalosaurus", to label any pterosaur remains that could not be distinguished other than by the absence of teeth. Notable authors who have discussed the various aspects of "Pteranodon" include Bennett, Padian, Unwin, Kellner, and Wellnhofer. One species, "P. orogensis" is not actually a pteranodontid and has been renamed "Bennettazhia oregonensis". Likewise, "P. orientalis" has been renamed "Bogolubovia orientale" (Nessov & Yarkov, 1989) and transferred to the Azhdarchidae.


The diet of "Pteranodon" is known to have included fish; fossilized fish bones have been found in the stomach area of one "Pteranodon", and a fossilized fish bolus has been found between the rami of another "Pteranodon". "Pteranodons wing shape suggests that it would have flown rather like a modern-day albatross. This is a suggestion based on the fact that the "Pteranodon" had a high aspect ratio (wingspan to chord length) similar to that of the albatross — 9:1 for "Pteranodon", compared to 8:1 for an albatross. Albatrosses spend long stretches of time at sea fishing, and utilize a flight pattern called "dynamic soaring" which exploits the vertical gradient of wind speed near the ocean surface to travel long distances without flapping, [Padian K. (1983)A functional analysis of flying and walking in pterosaurs. "Paleobiology" 9"'(3):218-239] and without the aid of thermals (which do not occur over the open ocean the same way they do over land). However, other scientists have suggested that "Pteranodon" could flap their wings and fly with power. These two flight styles need not have been mutually exclusive in "Pteranodon", or in pterosaurs in general. Recent wind tunnel tests on model pterosaur wings with the pteroid bone in an extended antero-ventral orientation supporting a large, highly cambered propatagium show that such a configuration enables the wing to develop up to 30% more lift, even at very high angles of attack. This anatomical feature, based on the pteroid bone - the bone unique to the pterosaur clade - may have enabled pterosaurs to be active, powered flyers in spite of the lack of other features associated with strong fliers. For example, pterosaurs usually had a small (relative to modern birds) sternum keel as an anchor point for the pectoralis muscle. "Pteranodon" was notable for its skull crest. These may have been used as mating displays, or it might have acted as a rudder, or perhaps both. It is also believed that the crest kept it stable when flying."Beyond the Dinosaurs!" by Howard Zimmerman, ISBN 0-689-84113-2.] It has been suggested that males of the species bore larger crests, but with fossil animals it is often difficult to tell whether differences in crest shape reflect different sexes or different species.

Consensus regarding the terrestrial locomotion of "Pteranodon" (whether it was bipedal or quadrupedal) has historically been the subject of debate. Today, most pterosaur researchers agree that pterosaurs were quadrupedal, thanks largely to the discovery of several pterosaur trackways; however, some new research suggest it was bipedal [] . The possibility of swimming has been discussed briefly in two papers (Bennett 2001 and Bramwell & Whitfield), [Bramwell CD & Whitfield GR (1974) "Biomechanics of Pteranodon", "Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc." B. 267] and has been studied in detail at Michigan State University (Smith , 2007) through the use of quantitative morphometrics and an extant phylogenetic bracket (a morphologically comparative technique invented by Larry Witmer).

In popular culture

In colloquial language, "Pteranodon" is often erroneously called a "pterodactyl." However, "pterodactyl" is not actually the name of a specific species; rather, it is a term for all short-tailed pterosaurs (the suborder Pterodactyloidea), which includes "Pteranodon", "Pterodactylus", and "Quetzalcoatlus". This misuse is most likely due to "Pteranodon"'s high profile in popular culture as the quintessential pterodactyloid. Also, "Pteranodon" is not the name of a specific species, but of the genus as a whole.

"Pteranodon" was seen briefly at the end of the 1997 film "", and also appeared in its sequel, "Jurassic Park III". The depiction in "Jurassic Park III" featured many inaccuracies, including toothed jaws, exaggerated strength and, presumably, aggression. ("Pteranodon" is thought to have eaten fish, and was incapable of grasping with its feet). In the two novels that inspired the first two films, some of these inaccuracies were attributed to the genetic engineering process used to create the animals. More scientifically accurate "Pteranodon" appeared in the television programs "Chased by Dinosaurs", "Sea Monsters", and "Primeval". A trained "Pteranodon" named Turu appears in the "Jonny Quest" series. "Pteranodon" appear in two Ray Harryhausen movies, "The Valley of Gwangi" and "One Million Years B.C.", as well as the pre-Harryhausen classic "King Kong".

In the British television series "Torchwood", the Torchwood team keep a semi-tame "Pteranodon" named Myfanwy at the Torchwood headquarters in Cardiff, Wales. In one episode, it is used to destroy a partially constructed Cyberman.

Petrie from "The Land Before Time (series)" is a "Pteranodon".

The latest and most accurate portrayal of a "Pteranodon" (actually a whole flock of them) was in the National Geographic IMAX movie, "Sea Monsters", released in October 2007.


Smith, Amy C. 2007. Pteranodont claw morphology and its implications for aquatic locomotion. Master's Thesis, Michigan State University.


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External links

* [ "Pteranodon" - A Photographic Atlas - at Oceans of Kansas Paleontology]
* [ Documented finding of a young male "Pteranodon sternbergi" (Oceans of Kansas Paleontology)]

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