Temporal range: Late Cretaceous
A restoration of Pteranodon longiceps
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Pterosauria
Suborder: †Pterodactyloidea
Family: †Pteranodontidae
Subfamily: †Pteranodontinae
Marsh, 1876
Genus: Pteranodon
Type species
Pteranodon longiceps
Marsh, 1876
Referred species

Pteranodon is a genus of pterosaur, it measured about 1.8 metres (six feet) long with a wingspan of 7.5 m (25 feet), and lived during the late Cretaceous period. It ate fishes,squid and other small sea animals and captured them with its long beak. It usually gets mistaken for pterodactyl, even though pterodactyl's proper name is Pterodactylus, a reptile that was much smaller and lived in the Late Jurassic - earlier than Pteranodon did, and on the territory of modern-day Europe rather than North America instead.

Pteranodon was notable for its skull crest. The crest has many blood vessels in it, found especially in male skeletons. It is believed that these were used as mating displays, in a similar fashion to how a peacock uses its tail feathers. Finds indicate that Pteranodon may have gathered in large rookeries during mating season. It is likely that males with bigger and brighter crests would be more appealing to the females.

Pteranodon was notable for its skull crest. These may have been used as mating displays, or it might have acted as a rudder, or perhaps both. It has been suggested that males of the species bore larger crests, but with fossil animals it is often difficult to tell whether differences in crest shape reflect different sexes or different species.

A number of species of Pteranodon have been named, including Pteranodon ingens, P. longiceps, and P. sternbergi.

Discovery and history

First fossils

Pteranodon was the first pterosaur found outside of Europe. Its fossils first were found by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1870, in the Late Cretaceous Smoky Hill Chalk deposits of western Kansas. These chalk beds were deposited at the bottom of what was once the Western Interior Seaway, a large shallow sea over what now is the midsection of the North American continent. These first specimens, YPM 1160 and YPM 1161, consisted of partial wing bones, as well as a tooth from the prehistoric fish Xiphactinus, which Marsh mistakenly believed to belong to this new pterosaur (all known pterosaurs up to that point had teeth). In 1871, Marsh named the find "Pterodactylus oweni", assigning it to the well-known (but much smaller) European genus Pterodactylus. Marsh also collected more wing bones of the large pterosaur in 1871. Realizing that the name he had chosen had already been used for Harry Seeley's European pterosaur species Pterodactylus oweni in 1864, Marsh re-named his giant North American pterosaur Pterodactylus occidentalis, meaning "Western wing finger," in his 1872 description of the new specimen. He also named two additional species, based on size differences: Pterodactylus ingens (the largest specimen so far), and Pterodactylus velox (the smallest).


Pteranodon species are extremely well represented in the fossil record, allowing for detailed descriptions of their anatomy and analysis of their life history. Over 1,000 specimens have been identified, though less than half are complete enough to give researchers good anatomical information. Still, this is more fossils material than is known for any other pterosaur, and it includes both male and female specimens of various age groups and possibly species.



The wing shape of Pteranodon suggests that it would have flown rather like a modern-day albatross. This is based on the fact that Pteranodon had a high aspect ratio (wingspan to chord length) similar to that of the albatross — 9:1 for Pteranodon, compared to 8:1 for an albatross. Albatrosses spend long stretches of time at sea fishing, and use a flight pattern called "dynamic soaring" which exploits the vertical gradient of wind speed near the ocean surface to travel long distances without flapping, and without the aid of thermals (which do not occur over the open ocean the same way they do over land).


Specimens assigned to Pteranodon have been found in both the Smoky Hill Chalk deposits of the Niobrara Formation, and the slightly younger Sharon Springs deposits of the Pierre Shale Formation. When Pteranodon was alive, this area was covered by a large inland sea, known as the Western Interior Seaway. Famous for fossils collected since 1870, these formations extend from as far south as Kansas in the United States to Manitoba in Canada. However, Pteranodon specimens (or any pterosaur specimens) have only been found in the southern half of the formation, in Kansas, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Despite the fact that numerous fossils have been found in the contemporary parts of the formation in Canada, no pterosaur specimens have ever been found there. This strongly suggests that the natural geographic range of Pteranodon covered only the southern part of the Niobrara, and that its habitat did not extend farther north than South Dakota.


In the Media

Pteranodon appears in many movies, TV shows and video games. It has become one of the most popular pterosaurs. It has appeared in the following media (among others):

A Pteranodon from Jurassic Park III

  • A little Pteranodon named Madonna was seen in the trilogy of Prehysteria!.
  • A flock of Pteranodons attack the main characters in Jurassic Park III. Unlike the real animal, they are depicted with teeth.
  • It is revealed that there are surviving Pteranodon populations on Isla Nublar during Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, although they will now face an impending danger, alongside many other creatures, in the form of an erupting volcano. They were seen flying alongside a giant herd running away from Mount Sibo.
  • A small flock of Pteranodons was seen at the beginning of Sea Monsters A Prehistoric Adventure flying over a Gorgosaurus & over the sea. 1 was also seen in the Video Game Version at the end.
  • It is also seen in The Lost World novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • It can be created in the video game Jurassic Park Park Builder.
  • One of the main characters of the Land Before Time movies is a young Pteranodon named Petrie.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Pteranodon, Tiny, Shiny, and Don are some of the characters from Dinosaur Train.
  • Several Pteranodons appear in the TV series Primeval and Primeval: New World.
  • In Hasbro's Transformers, the Autobot Swoop transforms into a mechanical Pteranodon. Some of the cybertronian so transform themselves into Pteranodon: Graphy, Terrorsaur, and Brimstone.
  • It appears in the Walking with Dinosaurs special: Land of Giants.
  • The Pteranodon is a common tame in the game Ark: Survival Evolved.
  • in 1995’s Disney Pixar toy story. There is a pterodactyl similar to the Kenner Jurassic Park toy
  • Pteranodon is in Jurassic World: Evolution via the Return to Jurassic Park DLC.