Temporal range: Middle Jurassic-Late Cretaceous, 166–66Ma
|Cast of a Pterodactylus antiquus specimen, Carnegie Museum of Natural History|
Dracochira Haeckel, 1895
Pterodactyloidea (derived from the Greek words πτερόν (pterón, for usual ptéryx) "wing", and δάκτυλος (dáctylos) "finger" meaning "winged finger", "wing-finger" or "finger-wing") forms one of the two suborders of pterosaurs ("wing lizards"), and contains the most derived members of this group of flying reptiles. They appeared during the middle Jurassic Period, and differ from the basal rhamphorhynchoidea by their short tails and long wing metacarpals (hand bones). The most advanced forms also lack teeth. Many species had well developed crests on the skull, a form of display taken to extremes in giant-crested forms like Nyctosaurus and Tupandactylus. Pterodactyloids (specifically the family Azhdarchidae) were the last surviving pterosaurs when the order became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, together with the non-avian dinosaurs and most marine reptiles.
"Pterodactyl" is also a common term for pterodactyloid pterosaurs, though it can also be used to refer to Pterodactylus specifically or (incorrectly) to pterosaurs in general. Well-known examples of pterodactyloids include Pterodactylus, Dsungaripterus, Pteranodon, and Quetzalcoatlus.
The earliest known pterodactyloid fossils are those recovered from the Stonesfield Slate formation (UK), which dates to the Bathonian stage of the Middle Jurassic, dated to about 166 million years ago. These specimens likely represent members of the family Ctenochasmatidae.
- Buffetaut, E. and Jeffrey, P. (2012). "A ctenochasmatid pterosaur from the Stonesfield Slate (Bathonian, Middle Jurassic) of Oxfordshire, England." Geological Magazine, (advance online publication) doi:10.1017/S0016756811001154
- Andres, B.; Myers, T. S. (2013). "Lone Star Pterosaurs". Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: 1. doi:10.1017/S1755691013000303.