Tooth Identification


Pterosaur teeth are difficult to identify out of context.  Without associated jaw material, the identification of a pterosaur tooth is, at best, a guess.  For that reason it is best to seek advice from a pterosaur specialist before pronouncing that a fossil tooth is a pterosaur tooth.

Identification check list - most pterosaur teeth will exhibit these features.

  1. Evenly curved and consistently tapering tooth with oval cross section.
  2. Wear bevel at the top smooth with no abrasions.
  3. Enamel cap at the crown.
  4. Fine striations may be present towards the base of the tooth.
  5. Open root.


Some larger pterosaur teeth may also show an oval shaped wear patch half way down the tooth where it has rubbed on the side of the opposing tooth when the jaw was closed.

If the tooth does not conform to this type, then the only sure way to know that it is a pterosaur tooth is for it to be fixed within a fragment of fossil jaw bone where the bone structure can be determined.

Most pterosaur teeth are evenly oval in cross section and generally of smooth appearance. There are some exceptions, like the tricuspid teeth of the very early pterosaur species. Specialist feeders like Dsungaripterus and Pterodaustro, but the shapes of these exceptional teeth are well documented.

Be aware

Pterosaur teeth have a similar shape to the common sabre toothed herring - Enchodus species.

Where a small crocodile tooth has been water worn, it can easily be confused with a pterosaur tooth.

Some plesiosaur teeth where the base has broken off look surprisingly like pterosaur teeth.

Bowerbank J. S., 1847, Microscopical observations on the structure of the bones of Pterodactylus giganteus and other fossil animals. Q. J. geol. Soc. Lond. Ser. 2, 4, 2–10 and pls 1–2.

Chiappe L. M. and Chinsamy A., 1996, Pterodaustro’s true teeth. Nature 379, 211–212

Chinsamy A. and Kellner A. W. A., 1996, Unravelling the microstructure of pterosaur teeth. Jour. Vert. Paleont., 16 (suppl. to 3): 27-28A

Elias F. A., Bertini R. J. and Medeiros M. A. A., 2007, Pterosaur teeth from the Laje do Coringa, middle Cretaceous, São Luís-Grajaú basin, Maranhão state, Northern-Northeastern Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Geociências. 37(4): 668-676

Fastnacht M., 1997, New light on tooth replacement of pterosaurs. J. Morph. 232, 253.

Fastnacht M., 2008, Tooth replacement pattern of Coloborhynchus robustus (Pterosauria) from the Lower Cretaceous of Brazil. Journal of Morphology, 2008 Mar; 269(3):332-48.

Pursglove P., 2006, Fossil Focus, How to identify a pterosaur tooth, Deposits, 7, Aug 2006

Wellnhofer P. and Khun O., 1978, Handbuch der Paläoherpetologie. Teil 19. Pterosauria. Stuttgart: Verlag Gustav Fischer.


01 - Background

02 - Tricuspid teeth

03 - early Monocuspid teeth

04 - late Monocuspid teeth

05 - Tooth reduction

06 - Special adaptations

07 - Key to identification

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