Pterosaurs: Flight in The Age Of Dinosaurs

Lands at The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, July 3 through October 2, 2016

By LatinoLA Contributor
Published on LatinoLA: July 7, 2016

Pterosaurs: Flight in The Age Of Dinosaurs

This summer, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) will present the largest exhibition in the United Sates dedicated to exploring these incredibly diverse winged reptiles--and the first back-boned animals to evolve powered flight--known as pterosaurs. On view in Los Angeles from July 3 through October 2, 2016, Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs highlights the latest research of museum scientists and leading paleontologists, extremely rare pterosaur fossils, and displays about discoveries in Italy, Germany, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, as well as life-size models, videos, and interactive exhibits to immerse visitors in the mechanics of pterosaur flight. The exhibit is complemented by NHM's own impressive collection of pterosaurs, which includes rare trackways and the giant, crested Pteranodon longiceps on display in the Jane G. Pisano Dinosaur Hall mezzanine. The exhibition is organized by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and will underscore the vast and newly revealed variation among these ancient creatures, which ranged from the size of a sparrow to a two-seater plane, as well as how they evolved to dominate the sky when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

"This exhibition represents a remarkable moment in the wonderfully rich, vital area of pterosaur research and discovery," said Lori Bettison-Varga, NHM President and Director. "We are delighted to partner with our East Coast colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History to bring to life these fascinating flying creatures, both through discoveries of rare prehistoric specimens and today's cutting-edge technology. We look forward to working together with the global scientific community to learn more about this exciting group of reptiles as new information continues to unfold."

Pterosaurs features dozens of fossils and casts from the AMNH collection and museums around the world, including the remains of an unknown species of giant pterosaur unearthed in Romania in 2012 by scientists working in association with the AMNH. "Despite persistently captivating our popular imagination, pterosaurs are among the least well-understood large animals from the age of dinosaurs," said Ellen V. Futter, AMNH President. "In the past decade, however, there has been an explosion of pterosaur research and new fossil discoveries including by scientists at the AMNH and the exhibition's curatorial team. Showcasing scientifically accurate information, this exhibition presents these fascinating winged reptiles, compares them to both dinosaurs of yesteryear and modern day birds and bats, and explores the biomechanics of pterosaur flight."

Pterosaur Diversity

Despite popular misconceptions, pterosaurs were not dinosaurs, although the two groups are closely related. In fact, these flying reptiles were the first vertebrate animals to evolve powered flight, diversifying into more than 150 species of all shapes and sizes spreading across the planet over a period of 150 million years until they went extinct 66 million years ago. There was amazing variation among pterosaurs, as visitors will discover upon entering the gallery to encounter full-size models of one of the largest and one of the smallest pterosaur species ever found: the colossal Tropeognathus mesembrinus, with a wingspan of more than 25 feet, soaring overhead and the sparrow-size Nemicolopterus crypticus, with a wingspan of 10 inches, displayed nearby. When pterosaurs first appeared more than 220 million years ago, the earliest species were about the size of a modern seagull, but the group evolved into an array of species ranging from pint-size to truly gargantuan, including species that were the largest flying animals ever to have existed. Later on in the exhibition, visitors can marvel at a full-size model of a 33-foot-wingspan Quetzalcoatlus northropi--the largest pterosaur species known to date--and the fossil remains of a giant pterosaur unearthed in Romania just a few years ago, which point to a new species that was even stronger and heavier than Quetzalcoatlus.

Interactive Pterosaur Experiences

Several interactive exhibits help visitors see the world from a pterosaur's-eye view. In "Fly Like a Pterosaur," visitors can "pilot" two species of flying pterosaurs over prehistoric landscapes complete with forest, sea, and volcano in a whole-body interactive exhibit that uses motion-sensing technology. For a different perspective on flight, visitors will also be able to experiment with the principles of pterosaur aerodynamics in an interactive virtual wind tunnel that responds to the movements of their hands.

Five iPad stations offer visitors the inside scoop on different pterosaur species--Pteranodon, Tupuxuara, Pterodaustro, Jeholopterus, and Dimorphodon--with animations of pterosaurs flying, walking, eating, and displaying crests; multi-layered interactives that allow users to explore pterosaur fossils, behavior, and anatomy; and video clips featuring commentary from curators and other experts.

[bFragile Fossils[/b]

For paleontologists, pterosaurs present a special challenge: their thin and fragile bones preserve poorly, rendering pterosaur fossils rarer than those of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Several exhibits break down the fossilization process to show how the composition of pterosaur bones affects their potential for preservation. Visitors will also find out about conditions that produce particularly valuable fossils and view a fossil of Anhanguera santanae. This pterosaur, which died and fell into a lagoon in Brazil 110 million years ago, was buried by fine sediment and the mud formed a hard shell called a nodule around the remains, protecting and preserving the pterosaur for posterity.

Pterosaurs on Land, in the Air, and Over Water

Since pterosaur fossils are extremely scarce, and their closest living relatives--crocodiles and birds--are vastly different, even the most elementary questions of how these extinct animals flew, fed, mated, and raised their young are still mysteries. But recent discoveries have provided new clues to their behavior. Like other flying animals, pterosaurs spent part of their lives on the ground. A fossil trackway from Utah reveals that pterosaurs walked on four limbs and may have congregated in flocks. A cast of an exquisitely preserved fossil pterosaur egg, found in China in 2004, shows that pterosaur young were likely primed for flight soon after hatching. What did pterosaurs eat? An interactive display shows their feeding habits varied widely, ranging from Pteranodon diving for fish, to Jeholopterus chasing insects through the air, to Pterodaustro straining food from water like a modern flamingo. A one-of-a-kind treasure shows a Pteranodon's last meal--the remains of a fish stuck in its mouth, preserved for 85 million years.

Focusing on pterosaurs' unique ability to fly, the exhibition also draws comparisons between pterosaurs and living winged vertebrates: birds and bats. Pterosaurs needed to generate lift just like birds and bats, but all three animal groups evolved the ability to fly independently, developing wings with distinct aerodynamic structures. The short film "Adapted for Flight" offers viewers a look at the basic principles of pterosaur flight and aerodynamics. A spectacular pterosaur cast fossil known as "Dark Wing" features preserved wing membranes and reveals long fibers that extended from the front to the back of this Rhamphorhynchus pterosaur's wings to form a series of stabilizing supports. These muscle fibers probably helped pterosaurs adjust the tension and shape of their wings.

Other exhibition fossils and specimens offer additional clues about how pterosaurs lived and behaved. These include Sordes pilosus, the first species to show that pterosaurs had a fuzzy coat and were probably warm-blooded, just like birds and bats, and even some dinosaurs. A gallery display illustrates the incredible variety of pterosaur crests--from the dagger-shaped blade that juts from the head of Pteranodon longiceps to the giant, sail-like extension of Tupandactylus imperator. Visitors can consider the many theories scientists have about how crests might have been used: for species recognition, sexual selection, heat regulation, steering through the air, or some combination of these functions.

Pterosaurs likely lived in a range of habitats. But pterosaur fossils were most easily preserved near water, so almost all species known today lived along a coast. The exhibition features a large diorama showing a re-creation of a dramatic Cretaceous seascape based entirely on fossil evidence and located at the present-day Araripe Basin in northeast Brazil. Two Thalassodromeus pterosaurs with impressive 14-foot wingspans swoop down to catch Rhacolepis fish in their toothless jaws, while a much larger Cladocyclus fish chases a school of Rhacolepis up to the surface. In the background, visitors will see an early crocodyliform and a spinosaurid dinosaur, which shared the habitat with pterosaurs.

For a complete list of Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs programs and events at NHM visit nhm.org.

Exhibition Organization
Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org).

Image Caption
Quetzalcoatlus northropi. This large pterosaur species lived around 70 million years ago on a plain in what is now western Texas. With a wingspan of at least 33 feet, Quetzalcoatlus northropi was about as big as a two-seater plane--larger than any other known flying animal. Quetzalcoalus northropi was named after Quetzalcoatl, a Mexican god of the air. © AMNH 2014


Visitor Information
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007

General admission tickets go on sale May 3.

Group Visits
Groups of 10 or more people receive discounted rates on Museum admission. Group tickets available now by calling (213) 763-3218 or e-mail groupsalesNH@nhm.org for reservations and more information.

Tickets to the exhibition are free for NHM members. To become a member visit nhm.org/membership .

About the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is located at 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. It is open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm. The Museum was the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1913. It has amassed one of the world's most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history--with more than 35 million objects, some as old as 4.5 billion years. The Natural History Family of Museums includes the NHM, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum (Hancock Park/Mid-Wilshire), and the William S. Hart Park and Museum (Newhall, California). The Family of Museums serves more than one million families and visitors annually, and is a national leader in research, exhibitions and education.

About the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world's preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State's official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation's 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt's enduring legacy of conservation. The Museum's five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree. In 2012, the Museum began offering a pilot Master of Arts in Teaching program with a specialization in Earth science, which is the only non-university affiliated such program in the United States. Approximately 5 million visitors from around the world came to the Museum last year, and its exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum's website and collection of apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls. Visit amnh.org for more information.

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