The fine art of dinosaurs?

The Arizona Museum of Natural History opens a new exhibit about flying reptiles in February (Graphic image by Mike Ramos)

When the Arizona Museum of Natural History opens a new dinosaur-theme exhibit in February, families will enjoy new opportunities to learn about pterosaur groupings and diversity. Pterosaur is a fancy word for flying reptile, by the way — a little factoid I picked up during earlier museum adventures with my once dinosaur-enamored son.

Today he’s the proud keeper of a leopard gecko named “Sunny,” who seems to like lounging under his little lamp more than flying. Just one more thing to be grateful for this New Year, I suppose. Christopher and I have been visiting the Arizona Museum of Natural History together for nearly two decades now.

This hanging pterosaur will be part of the First Flight exhibit (Photo: Kathy Neenan)

When their “First Flight: Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies” exhibit opens next month, we’ll be able to explore not only flying reptiles, but also the evolution of flight from insects to birds and bats thanks to assorted narrations, fossils, casts and paleo-art.

Ed Mack is building a lifesize pterosaur for the exhibit (Photo: Kathy Neenan)

Even a lifelike Pteranodon sternbergi created by artist Ed Mack. I’m told that exhibit volunteers are busy building everything from “rock blocks” to puzzles — plus lifesize replicas of the reptiles themselves. Let’s hope Sunny doesn’t get wind of it and expect his own miniature monument.

The "First Flight " exhibit is being built in-house (Photo: Kathy Neenan)

The “First Flight” exhibit will include various sections dedicated to topics like pterosaur anatomy, feeding strategies and babies. Consider reading up on pterosaurs with your little ones before you go. That way they’ll have fun learning new facts while gaining confidence sharing what they already know.

These fingers or toes help to demonstrate pterosaur anatomy (Photo: Kathy Neenan)

The museum shared a bit of “Pterosaur 101” with me so you’ll also be in the know before you go. Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to achieve self-powered flight. They had both distinctly-shaped thin hollow bones and membranous wings that were likely flexible and able to change shape during flight.

I’m told that the actual mechanical details aren’t completely understood by paleontologists, so there’s ample room for multiple arguments and opinions. What do you think? Did the evolution of flight take place from the ground up or from the trees down?

You’ll find plenty of answers, and intriguing questions too, as the Arizona Museum of National History continues exploring the fine art of dinosaurs.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn learn more about current and upcoming exhibits at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, and here to learn about public art exhibited on museum grounds.

Coming up: Exploring Mesa’s Main Street, Movie meets message

This post was updated 1/7/12 to amend the exhibit’s opening date

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