Ornithocheirus simus-web

An Adult Ornithocheirus feeding a small fish to a chick

Ornithocheirus (derived from "bird hand" in Ancient Greek) is a large fragmentary pterosaur genus endemic near the country of the United Kingdom.

Ornithocheirus is a well known wastebasket taxon, with several species once being classified to the genus, most of which are now considered as dubious or as different genera; the genus is now often considered to include only the type species, Ornithocheirus simus.


The original material of Ornithocheirus simus, recovered from England, indicates a mid-sized species with a wing span of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). Referred specimens attributed to Ornithocheirus simus can reach 5 meters (16.5 feet).

O. simus bore a distinctive convex "keeled" crest on its snout. Unlike the related Anhanguera and Coloborhynchus, which had an expanded rosette of teeth at the jaw tips, Ornithocheirus species (including O. simus) had straight jaws that narrowed toward the tip. Also unlike related pterosaurs, the teeth of Ornithocheirus were mostly vertical, rather than set at an outward-pointing angle. They also had fewer teeth than related species.

The type specimen of Ornithocheirus simus is represented only by a broken piece of the upper jaw tip. While it does preserve several characteristic features of Ornithocheirus, it is nearly identical to comparable bones in Tropeognathus mesembrinus, making clear distinction between these two species impossible.

Discovery and naming[]

During the 19th century, in England many fragmentary pterosaur fossils were found in the Cambridge Greensand, a layer from the early Cretaceous, that had originated as a sandy seabed. Decomposing pterosaur cadavers, floating on the sea surface, had gradually lost individual bones that sank to the bottom of the sea. Water currents then moved the bones around, eroding and polishing them, until they were at last covered by more sand and fossilized. Even the largest of these remains were damaged and difficult to interpret. They had been assigned to the genus Pterodactylus, as was common for any pterosaur species described in the early and middle 19th century.

Formerly assigned species[]

In 2013, Rodrigues and Kellner found Ornithocheirus to contain only O. simus under the genus and either placed most other species in other genera or declared them nomina dubia. They also considered O. platyrhinus a junior synonym of O. simus.

Species previously assigned to Ornithocheirus:

  • O. compressirostris (Hooley, 1914): reclassified as Lonchodectes
  • O. crassidens: reclassified as Amblydectes
  • O. cuvieri (Seeley, 1870) = Pterodactylus cuvieri [later reclassified as Cimoliopterus]
  • O. curtus (Hooley, 1914) = Pterodactylus curtus Owen, 1874
  • O. giganteus: now reclassified as Lonchodraco
  • O. hilsensis: more likely a theropod dinosaur
  • O. mesembrinus: Tropeognathus mesembrinus
  • O. nobilis: later reclassified as Pterodactylus nobilis
  • O. sedgwicki: Pterodactylus sedgwickii Owen 1859 [now classified as Camposipterus]
  • O. wiedenrothi: now known as Tergaryendraco
  • Cimoliornis diomedeus: likely closer related to Azhdarchoidea
  • Cretornis hlavatschi: more so considered an azharchid
  • Palaeornis clifti: confirmed to be a lonchodectid
  • O. buenzeli (cited in the past as evidence of Late Cretaceous ornithocheirids) has since been reconsidered as an azdarchid.

In The Media[]

  • Ornithocheirus is seen in the Walking with Dinosaurs episode "Giant of the Skies", in which an old male is featured as the main character, where it was mistakenly named "The Biggest Pterosaur In History". It also makes another appearance in Walking with Dinosaurs in the special "Land of Giants".
  • A prototype of Ornithocheirus was made for the short-lived preschool toy line Jurassic Park: Junior, but it never had an official release. The prototype had a toothless beak, a feature the real Ornithocheirus never had. Ornithocheirus did appear within the Jurassic Park Institute, as well as well as some games such as Jurassic World: The Game

Reptiles of the Skies - Walking with Dinosaurs - BBC