Winged reptile family nests in renewed Peabody Museum’s main lobby

When visitors return to the Peabody Museum on March 26, life-sized models of Pteranodon sternbergi nesting in the main lobby will be ready to welcome them.
Male Pteranodon skeleton model

Male Pteranodons, foreground, had skulls topped with large, bony crests. The females, background, had significantly smaller bodies and crests. Two babies, male and female, inhabit the ledge under the window. (Photos by Allie Barton)

A family of Pteranodon sternbergi, winged reptiles from the Late Cretaceous, has taken up permanent residence in the entrance lobby of the newly renovated Yale Peabody Museum.

A life-sized model of a male Pteranodon skeleton — its wingspan stretching 20 feet from tip to tip — appears ready to catapult itself from atop the Peabody’s new information desk. A female Pteranodon clings to the lobby’s wall above and to the right of its significantly larger male counterpart, guarding their two babies, a male and a female, which are nestled on a ledge underneath a small arched window.

The family of four will greet visitors to the Peabody when the museum reopens on Tuesday, March 26, at 10 a.m., following a four-year transformative renovation. Guests can pre-book visits on the Peabody’s website. (The museum will use a reservation system for the first 30 days after opening to manage anticipated crowds.)

The main entrance lobby now doubles as a Pteranodon rookery,” said Peabody Director David Skelly, the Frank R. Oastler Professor of Ecology at Yale School of the Environment and Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Given that famed Yale paleontologist and Peabody founder O.C. Marsh discovered the first Pteranodon fossils, we thought it fitting to have them welcoming people into the museum. They help set the stage for the museum’s exploration of evolution and biodiversity.”

The renewed Peabody, which now offers free admission for all visitors, is a dynamic center of participatory learning, groundbreaking research, and more accessible exhibitions that present the ever-changing story of life on Earth. The historic renovation expanded the museum’s galleries by more than 50% and added new research spaces, classrooms equipped with the latest audio-visual technology, and an education center for K-12 students from the New Haven area.

Female Pteranodon skeleton model hanging from a wall
Pteranodons had long, toothless beaks.

And as always, its iconic collection of dinosaur and pre-historic mammal fossils will be on display, including the first-ever Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus skeletons, which have been remounted in dynamic new poses that reflect the modern scientific consensus that dinosaurs were alert and lively animals. 

The first Pteranodon fossils, which were discovered by Marsh in 1871, were excavated from the Niobrara Formation of western Kansas, which is composed of layers of chalky limestone and shale. The region was part of the Western Interior Seaway, a shallow inland sea that covered North America’s midsection, dividing the continent in two. The fossils were the first pterosaurs — the earliest flying reptiles (birds, the next-earliest flying reptiles, evolved later) — discovered outside of Europe.  

The resin models, which are based on 3-D scans of Pteranodon fossil specimens, were sculpted by Triebold Paleontology Incorporated (TPI), a Colorado-based company.

Pteranodon fossils, like those of other pterosaurs, tend to preserve flat — their hollow bones become compressed while entombed in the chalky fossilized remnants of single-celled marine organisms, said Marilyn Fox, the Peabody’s chief preparator for vertebrate paleontology.

The substantial size difference between the male and female on display is a striking example of sexual dimorphism, the distinctions between individuals of different sex in the same species, Skelly said. Aside from being more than double the female’s size, the crest of the female’s skull is shorter and rounder than the male’s.

A fossil skull of a female of a related species, Pteranodon longiceps, is on display in the Peabody’s Burke Hall of Dinosaurs.

To reserve tickets to the renewed Peabody, visit the museum’s website.

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