Early species had long, fully toothed jaws and long tails, while later forms had a highly reduced tail, and some lacked teeth. Many sported furry coats made up of hair-like filaments known as pycnofibers, which covered their bodies and parts of their wings. Pterosaurs spanned a wide range of adult sizes, from the very small anurognathids to the largest known flying creatures of all time, including Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx.
Pterosaurs are often referred to in the popular media and by the general public as "flying dinosaurs", but this is scientifically incorrect. The term "dinosaur" is restricted to just those reptiles descended from the last common ancestor of the groups Saurischia and Ornithischia (clade Dinosauria, which includes birds), and current scientific consensus is that this group excludes the pterosaurs, as well as the various groups of extinct marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs.
Like the dinosaurs, and unlike these other reptiles, pterosaurs are more closely related to birds than to crocodiles or any other living reptile. Pterosaurs are also colloquially referred to as pterodactyls, particularly in fiction and by journalists. Technically, "pterodactyl" refers only to members of the genus Pterodactylus, and more broadly to members of the suborder Pterodactyloidea of the pterosaurs.
The anatomy of pterosaurs was highly modified from their reptilian ancestors by the adaption to flight. Pterosaur bones were hollow and air-filled, like the bones of birds. They had a keeled breastbone that was developed for the attachment of flight muscles and an enlarged brain that shows specialised features associated with flight. In some later pterosaurs, the backbone over the shoulders fused into a structure known as a notarium, which served to stiffen the torso during flight, and provide a stable support for the scapula (shoulder blade).
Pterosaur wings were formed by membranes of skin and other tissues. The primary membranes attached to the extremely long fourth finger of each arm and extended along the sides of the body to the ankles.