The Reptile People Always Mistake For A Dinosaur

If you walk into a third grade classroom, the cool kids can tell you all about their favorite dinosaurs. The one with the big jaws, sharp teeth, and little hands is called a T-Rex, they'll say. The angry one with three horns is a triceratops. And the flying dinosaurs, of course, are pterodactyls.

There's just one problem. Contrary to popular belief, pterosaurs weren't dinosaurs. Now, it's easy to understand the confusion. Of the 130 known types of pterosaur out there, according to Live Science, all of them lived, flew, and died out in the same era as the dinosaurs, and given the fact that these magnificent flying creatures were also giant, scaly beasts, thinking of them as dinosaurs seems ... well, obvious. But just because something seems obvious doesn't make it true, so read on to have your dinosaur-loving mind blown.

Pterodactyls weren't really dinosaurs

Yes, no matter how much sense it makes that anything that looked dinosaur-ish during the time of the dinosaurs must be a dinosaur itself, that just wasn't the case for pterosaurs. As explained by the Smithsonian, dinosaurs and pterosaurs are separate, reptilian offshoots of the classification "avemetatarsalians," which is itself part of a larger group called Archosaurs, which you can broadly think of as referring to certain types of reptiles: today, the two types of archosaur still alive are crocodilians (crocodiles, caimans, et cetera) and birds. Yes, birds. While this sounds confusing, the easiest way to understand it is to just think of dinosaurs and pterosaurs as being cousins, belonging the same group (avemetatarsalians), who have different parents but the same grandfather. 

Thus, to call a pterosaur a bird is akin to calling you a canine. Yes, canines and primates are both mammals, but one isn't the same as another.  

Birds, unlike pterosaurs, ARE dinosaurs

Now, here's where some people get confused. Because pterosaurs look so much like a cross between a "regular" dinosaur and a modern day bird, people often presume that today's birds must have evolved from pterosaurs. In fact, as the Natural History Museum points out, birds evolved from theropods, the two-legged carnivorous group that includes Velociraptors, Tyrannosaurus, and Spinosaurus. The type of theropod that eventually became birds, naturally, was much smaller than a T-Rex, though all theropods were probably covered in feathers. 

Anyhow, as the world kept spinning, the theropods that survived the great extinction developed beaks, wings, and all those features. Thus, weird as it sounds, the clucking hen in your neighbor's yard is more of a dinosaur than a pterodactyl ever was. 

You know what's even weirder? The smallest dinosaur in world history is still alive today, and it's called the bee hummingbird.