The Pterosaur Wing Membrane



From the fossil discoveries over the last 130 years it has been possible to build up a general model for the structure of wing membranes in pterosaurs.  The general arrangement of the wing membranes is divide into 4 working sections.

Actinopatagium - the main flying structure of the wing with layers of many actinofibrils strengthening and supporting the structure.

Brachiopatagium - the main wing finger area of the membrane which has layers of actinofibrils, reducing in number towards the wing tip.

Propatagium - the forward part of the wing membrane which is flexible and elastic, positioned by the pteroid bone and associated muscles.

Uropatagium - The membrane between and around the legs and tail of the pterosaur.

The patagium was structured in layers;

Simplified reconstruction diagram

The actinofibrils in the wing section are shown as a single layer.  In many parts of a pterosaur wing there would have been two, three or more layers of actinofibrils, orientated in different directions to overlap and give the wing a strong mechanical structure. 

A layer of fibrous elastic tissues around the actinofibrils would have provided a means of keeping the wing rigid in flight, but flexible when folded.  Muscle fibres under the actinofibrils could have been used to adjust the wing profile in flight. 

It is likely that the wing membrane had a good blood supply around the muscle layers, which could also have been used as a means of cooling the animal in flight.

Elgin R. A., Hone D. W. E. and Frey E., 2011, The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 56 (1), 2011: 99-111 doi:10.4202/app.2009.0145

Padian K. and Rayner J. M. V.,  1991, Structural fibres of the pterosaur wing: anatomy and aerodynamics. J.Vert.Paleont. 11(3): 49A

Padian K. and Rayner J. M. V., 1993, Structural fibres of the pterosaur wing: anatomy and aerodynamics. Naturwissenschaften 80: 361-364.

Stephan M., 2006, Flugsaurier: Phantastische Weichteilerhaltung – Federn oder Haare? Studium Integrale Journal 13. Jahrgang / Heft 2 - Oktober 2006 Seite 86 - 87

Unwin D. M. and Martill D. M., 2003, Soft tissue preservation and its significance for the palaeobiology of pterosaurs 2; pp. 31-34 in European Palaeontological Association, Workshop on Exceptional Preservation. Teruel, 25-27 September 2003.




1. The Background

2. 1873 - Rhamphorhynchus phyllurus

3. 1882 - The Zittel Wing

4. 1971 - Sordes pilosus

5. 1975 - The Vienna Specimen

6. 2002 - Jeholopterus

7. 2002 - The Dark Wing

8. Wing membrane structure

9. Examples of other specimens


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