Friday, August 29, 2014

Research Essay || Pterosaurs: Facts & Fables

Several years ago I started this essay for a {home}school assignment. I revised it a couple times but wasn't completely happy with it and so it's been sitting on my computer until now! I just corrected a few things rather than completely re-writing it; not sure how much my writing style has changed over the years? Was it worth digging this out of my archives?


Pterosaurs have been, and still are, a topic of great fascination to people of all ages. Because of this, many children’s products and “educational” items feature them. Notice I wrote “educational”. Unfortunately much of the readily-available information about them isn’t factual.  And while nearly everyone has heard of pterodactyls, the term pterosaur is foreign to most. It is also common to mistakenly refer to pterosaurs as dinosaurs. And, did pterosaurs really exist, or are they purely mythical? Are there any alive today?

One mistake people commonly make when referring to pterosaurs is calling them pterodactyls. A pterodactyl is a pterosaur, but a pterosaur is not necessarily a pterodactyl. What do I mean? Let’s illustrate: a Labrador is a dog, but is every a dog a Labrador? No way! The term pterosaur refers to members of order Pterosauria. Pterodactyl, however, refers to members of the genus Pterodactylus, and more broadly, suborder Pterodactyloidea.

Another common myth about pterosaurs is that they are flying dinosaurs. However, the term dinosaur “terrible lizard” refers specifically to members of superorder Dinosauria, while pterosaur “winged lizard” refers specifically to members of order Pterosauria. Also, dinosaurs have solid bones, as do other land animals, but pterosaurs have mostly hollow bones, suitable for flight, similar those of birds. In fact, even if dinosaurs did have wings, their dense bones would have made them too heavy to leave the ground!

Some people think that pterosaurs themselves are merely fictional! Why then, do we have many fossils of them being found? In addition, why have people the world over passed down stories of them from generation to generation, since before long-distance communication became possible? Cave art, from ancient times, also depicts them. And, have you looked in the Bible? Isaiah 30:6 references a “fiery flying serpent.” Pterosaurs are the only reptiles known to have had the ability to fly.

Are they extinct? Well, that is their scientific status, although people worldwide have (recently) reported sightings of them, or creatures that sound much like them. Nevertheless, none have been captured, no bodies have been found, and no photos have been captured of them.

In summary, pterodactyls are just one type of pterosaur, and, despite common belief, pterosaurs are NOT dinosaurs. They really existed, and, while it seems unlikely, it is not impossible that there could be some alive today.


NB: This isn't an exhaustive list.

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