Quick, what do you call those flying reptile animals that lived during the time of the dinosaurs? If your answer was “pterodactyl,” you’re not alone. However, scientists call that group of animals pterosaurs. “Pterodactyl” is the name of just one kind of pterosaur (or, more officially, Pterodacylus. There are over a hundred different kinds of pterosaurs in total.

So why did “pterodactyl” win out as the more commonly known name? Because it was one of the first kinds of pterosaur discovered. Cosimo Alessandro Collini wrote about his discovery of it in 1784. It wasn’t until 1824 that a scientist wrote up a discovery of dinosaur fossils and described them as a new kind of animal. Earlier scientists found dinosaur bones too, but they thought they belonged to giant humans!


Photo by Steven U. Vidovic, David M. Martill, and Matthew Martyniuk