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PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

By Carolinearnoldtravel @CarolineSArnold

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

Model of Pteranodon in the exhibit PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs

Imagine a world in which the sky was filled with hundreds of  flying creatures, some as big as a small plane, and others no bigger than you hand. These were the pterosaurs, the winged reptiles of the Dinosaur Age. Long extinct, and you can now see them again–as models and as fossils and in life-like videos–in the excellent exhibit PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles, on view from July 3 to October 2, 2016.
PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles
I went to see the exhibit a week ago. I was especially eager to see it because of my book Pterosaurs: Rulers of the Skies in the Dinosaur Age (out of print but now available as an e-book on Amazon.)
PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles
I learned from promoting my book that "pterosaur" is a tricky word. While most five-year-olds know about pterodactyls and have no trouble pronouncing the name, when adults see the word “pterosaur” they stumble on the silent “p”. (“Ptero” is the Greek word for “wing”.) So, if you see a “p” at the beginning of a pterosaur’s name, just ignore it.
Many of the pterosaurs in the exhibit were familiar, such as Pteranodon, with its twenty-foot wingspan, who once flew over the shallow seas of central North America and Thalassodromeus from Brazil, pictured on the cover of my book. But I also met some new species such as Jeholopterus, a relatively small insect eating pterosaur from northeastern China. Unlike many pterosaurs, it did not have a showy crest.  

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

A young player tries to guide the pterosaur to catch a fish.

A very popular part of the exhibit as a room with large video screens showing pterosaurs in flight as they search for fish or insects. Viewers stand in front of the screen and flap their arms to control the pterosaur's flight, as in a Wii game. You win if your pterosaur is successful catching its prey--not as easy as you might think!

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

Pterodactyl fossil from Solnhofen, Germany

Some of the most amazing fossils in the exhibit are from the limestone quarries in Solnhofen, Germany. The fragile bones are preserved so perfectly that you can see how they fit together in the skeleton. Another amazing fossil, discovered in Romania, actually shows the remains of a fur-like skin. Scientists think that pterosaurs may have been warm-blooded.

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

In this fossil from Solnhofen you can see the dark fibers of the wing membrane.

I have always been fascinated by prehistoric creatures and pterosaurs are some of the most amazing. They were the first vertebrates to fly (bats and birds came later) and dominated the skies for 150 million years before becoming extinct at the end of the Dinosaur Age 65 million years ago. This exhibit makes it seem almost as if they were alive again.

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

A pterosaur's long wing was supported by the elongated bones of its little finger


PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is a traveling exhibit organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Timed tickets are necessary to see the pterosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. You can reserve them online at the NHMLA website. If you are a member, as I am, the tickets are free.
Note: A fun feature of the NHMLA website is the animated flight of a pterosaur over a map of Los Angeles, showing a pterosaur's-eye view of the city.

PTEROSAURS: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles

Interactive displays are a popular feature of the pterosaur exhibit



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