Massive Reptiles Once Flew, Above the Dinosaurs

It's a bird, it's a plane? It's ... a pterosaur?

These giant flying reptiles lived alongside the dinosaurs, and are the subject of a new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

More than 150 species of pterosaurs have been discovered, according to curator and chair of the Division of Paleontology, Mark Norrell.

He said the variety of the creatures is astounding.

"We see things from very, very tiny ones, like Nemicolopterus, which we have a skeleton of here in the exhibit, which is about the size of a finch, to gigantic animals, like Quetzalcoatlus, with a ten-meter wing span," he said.

Additionally, he described great diversity among the creatures' bodies: some had beaks, some had tails, and some had head plumes.

Despite their resemblance to birds and bats, Norell said pterosaurs are more closely related to dinosaurs, though they are a separate species.

The museum's exhibit includes more than 40 different pterosaurs, represented as fossils, models, casts, or reconstructions. There are also interactive displays that show how these creatures flew — by controlling their movements through a motion-sensor game.

The exhibit runs through early January, 2015.

This is a cast of a Pterodactylus fossil found in Germany. (© AMNH/C. Chesek)

The Quetzalcoatlus was the largest Pterosaur, with a wingspan of 33 feet. (© AMNH/C. Chesek)

This fossil cast shows a Wukongopterus specimen (© AMNH/C. Chesek)