This morning I woke up to a very exciting email from ebay informing me that I had won this 33mm fossilized tooth from Siroccopteryx moroccoensis, a Pterosaur.
Pterosaurs, commonly known as Pterodactyls, are one of my favorite extinct lineages. They were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. Funnily enough, when Cosimo Collini discovered the first fossils in 1784, he thought they were aquatic creatures who used their giant front limbs as paddles.
Unlike birds, who are thought to have gotten their start by climbing trees, Pterosaurs appear to have gone from the ground up. This is based on the lack of tree-climbing adaptations in early Pterosaurs...however their exact origins are still up for debate.
Recently Michael Habib of Johns Hopkins has revealed that Pterosaurs took flight by running on all fours, making them top contenders with the giraffe for the doofiest looking animal while running award. Dr. Habib also attempts to dispel the interpretation of Pterosaurs as, "very skinny, almost emaciated-looking things, basically a hang glider with teeth." Turns out they were actually pretty ripped.
Pterosaurs living 220 million years ago were generally small, with wingspans of approximately 10 inches. As their history progresses the smaller lineages seem to have disappeared. Some authors think this was due to competition with early birds, 100% arm waving (no pun intended). By the time they went extinct 65.5 million years ago, two genera (one of them toothless, weird right?) had nearly reached the 40 foot wingspan mark, making them the largest flying animals ever known. Siroccopteryx moroccoensis had a wingspan of about 20 feet...not too shabby.
You can learn a ton about the Pterosaurs from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterosaur
Pterosaur/Giraffe image from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/01/090107-pterosaur-picture.html