Temporal range: Late Cretaceous, 85.8–84.5Ma possible Early Cretaceous record
Nicholson & Lydekker, 1889
Nyctodactylidae Haeckel, 1895
Nyctosauridae (meaning "night lizards" or "bat lizards") is a family of specialized soaring pterosaurs of the late Cretaceous Period of North America and, possibly, Europe. It was named in 1889 by Henry Alleyne Nicholson and Richard Lydekker.
Nyctosaurids are characterized by their lack of all but the wing finger. In most pterosaurs, the hand has four fingers, with the fourth elongated to support the wing, and the remaining three are usually small, clawed, and used in walking or climbing. The lack of functional fingers in nyctosaurids may suggest that they spent almost all of their time in the air, rarely walking on the ground. Nyctosaurids also possessed a distinctively enlarged crest for muscle attachment on their upper arm bone, or humerus, the deltopectoral crest.
Nyctosaurids have occasionally been included in the similar family Pteranodontidae, though researchers including Christopher Bennett and Alexander Kellner have both concluded that they belonged to a separate lineage. Analyses by David Unwin did indicate a close relationship between Pteranodon and Nyctosaurus, though he used the name Pteranodontia for the clade containing both genera. Both opinions were published before the discovery of the second definitively known nyctosaurid, Muzquizopteryx, in 2006.
Most nyctosaurid fossils have been found in formations dating to the late Cretaceous period of the western United States and Mexico. Nyctosaurus dates from 85-84.5 million years ago, in the Niobrara Formation of Kansas. Muzquizopteryx is the oldest nyctosaurid known from definitive remains, dating to the Turonian-Coniacian boundary, 85.8 million years ago, in Coahuila. However, a partial humerus with the distinctive nyctosaurid deltopectoral crest was found in Cornet, Romania, and identified as a possible European, early Cretaceous (late Berriasian age, about 140Ma ago) nyctosaurid by Gareth Dyke and colleagues in 2010.
- Nicholson, H.A. and Lydekker, R. (1889). A manual of palaeontology for the use of students: with a general introduction on the principles of palæontology, Volume II. Blackwood, 1889.
- Bennett, S. C. (1994). "Taxonomy and systematics of the Late Cretaceous pterosaur Pteranodon (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea)", Occasional Papers of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 169: 1-70
- Frey, E., Buchy, M.-C., Stinnesbeck, W., González, A. G. & di Stefano, A. (2006). "Muzquizopteryx coahuilensis n.g., n. sp., a nyctosaurid pterosaur with soft tissue preservation from the Coniacian (Late Cretaceous) of northeast Mexico (Coahuila)." Oryctos, 6: 19-39.
- Schmidt, H., Buchy, M.-C., Vega, F.J., Smith, K.T., Ifrim, C., Frey, E., Keller, G., Rindfleisch, A., González, A.H.G., Lionel Cavin, L. and Stinnesbeck, W. (2006). "A new lithographic limestone deposit in the Upper Cretaceous Austin Group at El Rosario, county of Múzquiz, Coahuila, northeastern Mexico." Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Geológicas, 22(3): 401-418.
- Dyke, G., Benton, M., Posmosanu, E. and Naish, D. (2010). "Early Cretaceous (Berriasian) birds and pterosaurs from the Cornet bauxite mine, Romania." Palaeontology, published online before print 15 September 2010. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2010.00997.x
- Price, L. I. 1953. A presença de Pterosáuria no Cretáceo superior do Estada da Paraiba. Divisão de Geologia e Mineralogia Notas Preliminares e Estudos, 71, 1-10.