I have to admit that prior to this exhibit, most of what I knew about the prehistoric pterosaurs (and it wasn't much) I had learned from watching Dinosaur Train with my kids. But now that we've explored the American Natural History Museum's brand-new, interactive installation Pterosaurs: Flight In the Age of Dinosaurs, I totally get why my preschool-age son is obsessed with these amazing flying creatures.
Walking in I assumed that the pterosaur was a type of dinosaur. Wrong. Turns out they were dinos' flying reptilian cousins, and the only vertebrates to develop the ability to soar besides birds and bats. There were more than 150 different species of pterosaurs, some with wingspans of up to 33 feet, making it the largest flying creature that has ever existed! Appropriately, the AMNH's exhibit is the largest pterosaur display ever mounted in the U.S., and features rare fossils and casts, awesome models, and lots of hands-on stations where kids can get a sense of what life was like for these creatures.
Pterosaurs: Flight In the Age of Dinosaurs traces the evolution of the reptiles, and how they lived in the air, on land and even in the water. The exhibit is easy to navigate and features fossils, impressive to-scale models (many of which are suspended from the ceiling), the short doc Adapted for Flight and a handful of cool interactive elements. Unsurprisingly, the hands-on stations were my kids' favorite parts.
Located at the center of the exhibition, the Flight Lab is where you'll find most of the interactive fun. We made a beeline for the Fly Like a Pterosaur station, which uses motion-sensor technology so you can use your body to "fly" an animated pterosaur. We had a blast moving our arms and twisting our torsos in order to navigate the pterosaur over the prehistoric landscape. We soared over water and land, and even swooped down to the ground. Don't worry if you wipe out; the pterosaur quickly reappears on screen, totally unscathed.
Also in the Flight Lab section, a Virtual Wind Tunnel, which is actually a large screen where you can watch aerodynamics in action. By pressing different buttons, we were able to manipulate the strength and direction of the wind, and watch how it affected the animated pterosaur's flight.
In addition, there are five touch-screens where you can see animated pterosaurs fly, walk and eat; examine pterosaur anatomy and fossils (which are rare since they lived in areas where fossils tended not to form); and watch video interviews with the curators. To continue your pterosaur study at home, download the AMNH's FREE Pterosaurs iPad app, which features content adapted from the exhibit.
For my kids, no visit to a museum is complete without a trip to the store, and the exhibit actually forces you to exit right into it. There's some pretty cute pterosaur merchandise including plush toys, apparel and books. For older kids there's a neat game, Pterosaurs: The Card Game, co-designed by high school students in the AMNH's #scienceFTW program. You can also download printable PDF cards, instructions, gaming tips and learn to play on the website.
Pterosaurs: Flight In the Age of Dinosaurs is on view through January 4, 2015 at the American Museum of Natural History, 79th Street and Central Park West. Free with General Admission Plus One: $27 for adults, $16 for children ages 2-12.
Find out about more kid-friendly exhibits in our Museum Guide.