In 1854, German paleontologist Hermann Von Meyer named a new species of Pterodactylus, P. longicollum, based on specimens from Upper Jurassic lithograph limestones of the Solnhofen and Nulspingen Formations in in southwestern Germany. Over the years, a total of six specimens of P. longicollum were discovered, but four were destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II, including the holotype specimen. In 1970 Peter Wellnhofer designated one of the remaining specimens the neotype od P. longicollum, but kept it in the genus Pterodactylus.
In 2012 Chris Bennett gave P. longicollum a new genus name, Ardeadactylus, noting several differences between Ardeadactylus longicollum and Pterodactylus antiquus, the type species of Pterodactylus. The genus name Ardeadactylus means “heron finger,” alluding to an assumed similar feeding style in herons and Ardeadactylus. The species name longicollum means “long neck” referencing the proportionally longer neck in Ardeadactylus than in Pterodactylus.
The skull of Ardeadactylus is long and tapering with a broad concave upper profile. The rostrum takes up about half of the skull’s length and gradually tapers to a rounded point. There are at least 15 pairs of teeth in both the upper and lower jaws, all restricted to the distal portion. The teeth are blunt cones with a gradual backward curve.
Ardeadactylus has a longer neck than most other Jurassic pterosaurs, and had long limbs, possibly an adaptation for wading. The wingspan was 1.45 m (4.75 feet), similar to many larger egrets and herons, and in the middle range of Solnhofen pterosaurs.
When Bennett named Ardeadactylus in 2012 he considered it to be different enough from Pterodactylus to warrant a new genus, but still thought it to be a pterodactylid. In 2017, Steven Vidovic and David Martill conducted a cladistic analysis of pterosaurs, placing special focus on Solnhofen taxa. They found Ardeadactylus was a gallodactylid most closely related to contemporaneous pterosaur Aurorazhdarcho. Both pterodactylids and gallodactylids are members of a larger lineage of early short-tailed pterosaurs known as the archaeopterodactyloids, which also includes the suspension-feeding ctenochasmatids.
At the time Ardeadactylus lived, about 150 million years ago, most of Europe was covered with shallow tropical seas with many small- and medium-sized islands. Ardeadactylus shared its habitat with a large number of other pterosaur species including Rhamphorhynchus, Pterodactylus, and Ctenochasma among many others. Most Solnhofen pterosaurs relied on the sea for food, but focused on different prey or hunting methods. The long legs and neck of Ardeadactylus suggest that it may have waded in shallow water, standing motionless, waiting to strike an unlucky fish that swam past.