Interactive exhibit featuring pterosaurs lands at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
January 30, 2016 12:33 AM
Visitors look up at a life-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus Northrop, which is 30 feet long and has a wingspan of 30 feet, at the new Pterosaur display Friday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Some of the fossels were found at the Big Bend Nationa Park in Texas.
A model of a flying Tropegnathus at the new “Pterosaur” display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Dr. Michael Habib talks about “Colorfulk Crests” display Firday at the new “Pterosaur” display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
By John F. Gilmore III / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Flap your arms and the 150-pound digital flying reptile follows onscreen. Lean forward and the prehistoric creature dives into the ocean to snag a juicy fish.
This is just one of the interactive displays featured in “Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs,” a paleontology exhibition that opens today at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland.
On loan from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City through May 22, the exhibit contains rare fossils of pterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs. It includes life-size models and digital displays that bring these creatures to life.
“Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs but were closely related to them,” said Michael Habib, a paleontologist at the University of Southern California who helped to create the exhibit. “The winged reptile’s closest living relatives would be birds and crocodiles, but they evolved flight independently from birds.”
As a research associate for both the Carnegie Museum and the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Mr. Habib explained the exhibit Friday in a media preview. He reconstructs the anatomy, physiology and motion of extinct flying species. He worked at Chatham University for three years before moving to Los Angeles.
Mr. Habib said hot spots for pterosaur fossils are in Brazil, China and Bavaria, Germany. In Solnhofen, a municipality in Bavaria, pterosaurs and other fossils are found in limestone mines, where the fine sediments perfectly preserved the bones.
More than 150 species have been discovered. Pterosaurs were diverse creatures; some species lived off the sea like aquatic birds and others lived on the land, hunting insects and small dinosaurs.
Visitors to the exhibit will observe these species and their body structures as they navigate around fossils and models.
“On pterosaurs, we have this kind of furry covering called pycnofibres, that are not the same as mammalian fur or bird feathers, but might be related to feathers,” said Mr. Habib, explaining why there seems to be “hair” on many of the models. Based on these pycnofibres, he speculates pterosaurs might have been warm-blooded.
As visitors pass through the pterosaur exhibit, they might be surprised at the size of the enormous flying reptile models suspended from the ceiling. The Tropeognathus, with its 24-foot wingspan (the length of two stretch limos) is the largest known marine pterosaur. Quetzalcoatlus, its land-based and even larger counterpart with a wingspan of 30 feet, also hangs above the exhibit. It was named after the Mesoamerican god of wisdom and is known as the “feathered serpent god.”
“Pterosaurs have what we call a ‘membrane’ wing,” he said. “Birds have a feather wing, bats have a skin wing and pterosaurs had a muscle wing, which could bend and morph by using muscles and other body parts.”
The exhibit also has trackways, or footprints preserved in mud, which paleontologists use to study the movement of pterosaurs when they walked on all four limbs.
Pterosaurs eventually died out in the late Cretaceous period, along with their dinosaur counterparts.
Entrance to the exhibit requires an extra fee above regular museum admission. Additional cost is $5 for adults and $3 for children 17 and under; no charge for children 2 and under. Members free. The exhibit is appropriate for all ages.
John F. Gilmore III: email@example.com; 412-263-1130.
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