Then in the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous, pterosaur diversity exploded. These later pterosaurs are called pterodactyloids.
Some of these new pterosaurs grew as tall as giraffes, like the enormous Quetzalcoatlus with a wingspan of more than 10 meters (32 feet). They also developed fancy headgear and specialized teeth.
Discovery News reported on engineers' attempts to use pterosaur crest designs to improve aircraft maneuverability.
BLOG: Pterosaur Airlines Now Departing
The different types of crests may have had some effect on flight, but many researchers believe crests may have been more important for helping pterosaurs find mates. Modern birds, descendants of the pterosaurs' dinosaur cousins, use crests and other displays in much the same way.
The teeth may have been a reaction to new food sources that became available in the Cretaceous as well. The Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution marked a dramatic change in plant and animal life on the ground. The pterosaurs may have been diversifying to take advantage of the new grub.
The appearance of birds may have also given pterosaurs a run for their money.
But trying to determine whether it was the new diversity of food sources or the appearance of birds that caused pterosaurs to diversify is like asking, "Which came first, the Archaeopteryx or the egg?"
IMAGE 1: Diversity in cranial characters of the pterodactyloid pterosaurs, showing variations in jaw shape, presence and absence of teeth, skull proportions, and crests on the snout and back of the skull. Pterosaurs shown are: A, Dimorphodon; B, Rhamphorhynchus; C, Coloborhynchus; D, Pteranodon; E, Pterodactylus; F, Pterodaustro; G, Dsungaripterus; H, Tupandactylus; I, Thalassodromeus. (CREDIT: From University of Bristol press release; Drawing by Mark Witton.http://www.markwitton.com/)
IMAGE 2: Extremes in pterosaur morphology. The giant and probably flightless Quetzalcoatlus from the Late Cretaceous of Texas was as tall as a giraffe. The small insectivorous Anurognathus from the Late Jurassic of Germany is seen flying above the artist's head. (CREDIT: From University of Bristol press release; Drawings by Mark Witton.http://www.markwitton.com/)