Pteranodon was a pterosaur with massive, muscular forearms which bore 4 fingers on each hand (one of which was elongated and served as a frame for the membrane that made up a majority of the wing), a small body with a prominent chest (for attachment of arm muscles), moderately long hindlegs that were wiry in comparison to its forelegs, a short and stubby tail, and a moderately long neck. Perhaps the most defining traits of Pteranodon were its large, curved, male-specific crest (in one species, Pteranodon sternbergi, the crest was shaped like the keel of a boat) and its long, curved, upturned beak which, unlike those of earlier pterosaurs such as Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus, bore no teeth (hence the meaning of its name, "toothless wing"). Most of its body (excluding its beak, crest, and wings) would have been covered in a fur-like covering called pycnofibers.
Pteranodon was a predator, preying on small fish and cephalopods. Its curved, upturned beak was used to prevent prey from easily wriggling out of its grasp, allowing the pterosaur to ingest food with little to no problems.
The use of the large crest atop Pteranodon's head has been open to debate for a long time, with many theories that emerged including being used as an aerodynamic counterbalance (due to the notion that the pterosaur's incredibly long beak would cause its head to be heavier, making it hard to orient when in flight), an attachment point for large jaw muscles, or even a rudder for steering while in flight; today, the most widely accepted theory is that it was used for sexual display (in this case, attracting mates), which is supported by the fact that only males had this crest. As well as this, due to its long wings, it was an exceptional soarer, possibly exploiting the high wind gradient near the ocean surface to travel long distances without flapping its wings, similarly to albatrosses. In order to get into the air, Pteranodon launched from a quadrupedal position, using its large forelimbs to vault into the air before initiating a series of wing flaps in order to complete the take off (similarly to other pterosaurs as well as bats); due to how much time it spent hunting for food in the Cretaceous seas, it may have been capable of taking off from the surface of the water. Since there are no found juvenile specimens attributed to Pteranodon, scientists do not know how juveniles or newborn individuals lived, and it is only possible to speculate on their lifestyle; however, it can be inferred that they were precocial (able to feed themselves almost immediately after birth) and lived differently from their parents, they grew incredibly quickly (reaching near-adult sizes in under a year), and once they reached a certain size, they stopped growing, similarly to a warm-blooded dinosaur.
In popular cultureEdit
Pteranodon was first introduced to the public in the 1925 movie, The Lost World, where it was shown swooping down on and killing a Toxodon before eating it. Since then, it has managed to become the archetypical pterosaur, and has appeared in many major pieces of media like The Valley of Gwangi, King Kong, Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Chased by Sea Monsters. In the media, it is commonly dubbed a "pterodactyl" (a name derived from Pterodactylus), and it is portrayed with scaly skin, bat-like wings, eagle-like talons, a long, vaned tail a la Rhamphorhynchus, and a toothy beak (despite its scientific name saying otherwise); as well as this, it is characterized as a gigantic, vicious, eagle-like predator that swoops upon modern and prehistoric humans alike before snatching them with its talons and flying off with them. Documentaries tend to portray it more accurately, giving it a more passive demeanor, accurately giving it a toothless beak, and even giving it a diet of fish and other small aquatic animals.