Chat With a Paleontologist About Pterosaurs and the AMNH's New Exhibit

The American Museum of Natural History here in New York just kicked off an exhibit about those ancient flying reptiles called pterosaurs. These rulers of the sky happen to be the least understood of prehistoric creatures, so we've got Mark Norell, the curator in charge of the paleontology department at the AMNH and master of the bone room, here to answer all your burning questions.

First, a little background on the whole exhibit, and pterosaurs themselves. You probably know them as pterodactyls, but that term isn't technically correct. These flying beasts were the first back-boned animals to ever evolve to powered flight, and when they flew around this planet some 220 million years ago, they ranged in size from as small as sparrows to as large as F-16 fighter planes. They also happen to be some of the rarest specimen in the paleontology realm. In fact, the AMNH—which has upwards of three million specimens—only has six cabinets full of pterosaur goodies. We saw how the museum was using 3D printing to help replicate those for educational purposes and gear up for this exhibit last year.


This exhibit is impressive for many reasons, it's the biggest exhibition about these airborne reptiles ever staged, for instance. It features rare fossils from all over the world—Italy, Germany, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil—as well as life-sized models and interactive portions where you get to fly like these awesome creatures.

Norell says the timing of the exhibit is especially good:

This is an excellent time to do an exhibit on pterosaurs, largely because there have been more significant pterosaur fossil discoveries than ever before and more technology available to help us study them. We're able to peer inside of fossil bones using CT [computed tomography] scan imagery and mimic their flight with biomechanic software. I think that in the next decade, we're going to know twice as much as we know now, if not more.


Fresh off a dig in China, we've got Norell here to answer all your questions starting at 11am EST. So let 'em fly.

The Q&A is now closed. Thanks so much for joining us!


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