Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature Pterodactyl: Pictures, Types, and Characteristics Share Flipboard Email Print Animals & Nature Dinosaurs Basics Paleontologists Carnivores Dinosaurs & Birds Herbivores Marine Reptiles Prehistoric Mammals Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Wildlife Conservation Insects Marine Life Forestry Evolution View More By Bob Strauss Science Writer B.S., Cornell University Bob Strauss is a science writer and the author of several books, including "The Big Book of What, How and Why" and "A Field Guide to the Dinosaurs of North America." our editorial process Bob Strauss Updated December 13, 2019 Most people use the word pterodactyl to refer to two different genera of pterosaurs, Pterodactylus and Pteranodon. Here are pictures of these two famous flying reptiles. 01 of 11 Pterodactylus Discovery SinoDino The first specimen of Pterodactylus was discovered in 1784, decades before naturalists had any conception of evolution. The late Jurassic Pterodactylus was characterized by its relatively small size (a wingspan of about three feet and a weight of 10 to 20 pounds), long, narrow beak, and short tail. 02 of 11 Pterodactylus' Name Wikimedia Commons The "type specimen" of Pterodactylus was identified and named by one of the first naturalists to recognize that animals could go extinct, the Frenchman Georges Cuvier. 03 of 11 Pterodactylus in Flight Nobu Tamura Pterodactylus is often depicted as flying low over coastlines and plucking small fish out of the water, like a modern seagull. 04 of 11 Pterodactylus - Not a Bird Alain Beneteau Like other pterosaurs, Pterodactylus was only remotely related to the first prehistoric birds, which actually descended from small, terrestrial, feathered dinosaurs. 05 of 11 Pterodactylus and "Type Specimens" Wikimedia Commons Because it was discovered so early in paleontological history, Pterodactylus suffered the fate of other before-their-time reptiles of the 19th century: any fossil that remotely resembled the "type specimen" was assigned to a separate Pterodactylus species. 06 of 11 Pteranodon's Unusual Skull Wikimedia Commons The prominent, foot-long crest of Pteranodon was actually part of its skull--and may have functioned as a combination rudder and mating display. 07 of 11 Pteranodon Wikimedia Commons Many people mistakenly assume that Pteranodon lived at the same time as Pterodactylus; in fact, this pterosaur didn't appear on the scene until tens of millions of years later, in the late Cretaceous period. 08 of 11 Pteranodon Gliding Wikimedia Commons Most researchers believe that Pteranodon was primarily a glider rather than a flyer, though it's not inconceivable that it actively flapped its wings every now and then. 09 of 11 Pteranodon May Have Mostly Walked Heinrich Harder It may be the case that Pteranodon took to the air only rarely, and instead spent most of its time stalking the ground on two legs, like the raptors and tyrannosaurs of its North American habitat. 10 of 11 Pteranodon's Unusual Look Matt Martyniuk One of the oddest things about Pteranodon is how non-aerodynamic it looked; there's certainly no flying bird alive today that remotely resembles this Cretaceous pterosaur. 11 of 11 Pteranodon - The Cool Pterosaur Wikimedia Commons Even though they're both referred to as pterodactyls, Pteranodon is a far more popular choice than Pterodactylus for inclusion in movies and dinosaur TV documentaries!