The American Museum of Natural History in New York is putting on an international exhibition that gives visitors an up-close look at the fascinating world of prehistoric flying reptiles, or pterosaurs, which soared on air currents tens of millions of years ago.
“Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs” opens tomorrow (April 5) and will run until January, 2015. The museum is co-curating the exhibit with Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist from Brazil. It’s the largest exhibition devoted to pterosaurs ever put together in the U.S.
The exhibit gives visitors a complete interactive experience where they can commandeer two species of pterosaurs over prehistoric landscapes with a sensor program that copies a human’s movement on a screen. Reports say the display is stunningly realistic.
“Despite persistently captivating our popular imagination, pterosaurs are among the least well understood large animals from the age of dinosaurs,” said museum president Ellen Futter in a report by the AFP.
Pterosaurs, which means ‘winged lizards’ first appear in the fossil record some 220 million years ago and are the first vertebrates–animals with backbones–to have spread their fin-like wings to take to the sky. They eventually diversified into more than 150 separate species and ranged in size from a small sparrow to a bi-plane.
The first pterosaur fossil was described in 1784 by the Italian naturalist Cosimo Collini. At first, he and others thought the specimen was of a marine creature that used its out-sized limbs to paddle. It was Georges Cuvier, the French zoologist who. in the early 1800s. first suggested that pterosaurs were flying animals.
For a long time, most searches for pterosaurs took place in Germany, southern England, and the U.S. However, in the last couple of decades, new fossil beds have been unearthed in China and Brazil. Paleontologists are thrilled.
“We had three places for over a hundred years,” said Mark Norell, curator and chair of the museum’s paleontology division. “Now we have two more places that are even better than the other three. It’s just exploded in terms of diversity as well as in number of specimens.”