The pterosaur Zhejiangopterus linhaiensis is in teh dinosaur base, eatin’ the all their dudes. Zhejiangopterus was an azhdarchid pterosaur from China, terrestrially stalking, as was (probably) their wont. I have given it a speculative soft-tissue crest — everything seems to have crests these days.

This composition is largely stolen from a painting by Christain Schloe. And thanks to Mark Witton for the skeletal reference.

P.S. Why is there an eye where the nostril should be? Your answer is in the question fish-bulb, that’s its nostril.

A popular motif in classical mythology is that of Zeus turning into a swan and raping a maiden named Leda in a fit of lust. Here, I imagined the same scenario with the closest animal there was to a “giant swan,” a flying reptile known as Zhejiangopterus. The impossible union has unfortunately resulted in the monster piercing the maiden through the heart.

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9

Carnegie Museum - Part 4

Flying over the Cretaceous hall, unnoticed to me on my first pass, is a mind-bogglingly huge Quetzalcoatlus, looking down on land-bound peasants with obvious pity. Back below, the fossils proceed into the Cenozoic with the entelodont Dinohyus, plus some other Eocene - Miocene critters. Past them are the Pleistocene - Holocene forms Megaloceros, Dinornis, and Paramylodon.

From thence there’s a brief detour back to the Mesozoic to cover the aquatic life of the Niobrara Sea. The giant turtle Protostega dominates one wall, the other filled by a lively diorama with the unfortunate Cretaceous seabird Hesperornis getting nipped at by a Dolichorhynchops. Above them is a woefully-lit mosasaur, though of which genus I do not know.

Upstairs, the fossils phase out in favor of Holocene animals, mostly colorful dioramas like this one with bighorn sheep in the Rockies. The immense mandibles of a sperm whale, towering up to the ceiling, stand out from these.

Next is the hall of birds, because there have not been nearly enough of those on here tonight already.

Khetzha — or, the ostrich if Pterosauria out-competed Aves.

I aimed to reinvent a creature that I first imagined in high school. It was originally some kind of bipedal theropod or reptile, and I decided to instead make it a descendant of Azhdarchid pterosaurs, which are my absolute favorite family of animals. The original beast had vestigial nub-like arms, but since pterosaurs favored their forelimbs in terrestrial locomotion, I did away with the rear instead.

In hindsight, I think I should have reduced the antorbital fenestra to give the skull more heft, and to give support to the boss above it. I also think that the cervical vertebrae should have developed more bony supports over time, but I’ll attribute that to my lack of imagination on adapting the already bizarrely long vertebrae of Pterosauria.

The purpose of this illustration is part of motivating myself to build a world that I’ve ignored over the past six years, one that I want so badly to write about. It is a low-fantasy setting, I suppose an alternate earth. I decided that with the Khetzha, a common mount of the people of the desert Urom in this world, I would begin filling in the landscape with a few creatures that might exist if pterosaurs and some of my other favorite palaeo-beasts had survived. 

A far-fetched idea for a neoazhdarchid pterosaur, convergent with whales. The idea for the hind flipper is quite novel, and I wonder if there’s a precedent for it in tetrapods. Its fin is formed by a fusion of the hindlimbs, specifically the medial-most tarsal and all of digit I distal to it. The other digits are flattened and spread out to form the basis of the flipper. The flipper, having joints, is more malleable than that of a whale; its shape can be changed, granting Pterocetus more control and more maneuverability. However, the rear fin is not as powerful as a whale’s, and thus the fore and hind limbs work together to provide power.

The flight muscles have been repurposed as swimming muscles, so a lot of basic Pterosaur shoulder and forelimb anatomy is maintained. Digit IV (the former wing finger) is reduced, while the others are enlarged. The pteroid acts simply to provide support, but is mostly vestigial.

I imagine this evolving from a penguin/otter-like thing, which then evolved into something like a walrus. This means that, before osteo-fusion, the hindlimbs were joined by muscle. The tail isn’t used for the back flipper as it was fused into a pygostyle or coccyx before this line of evolution began. Instead, the bones of the hind limbs act sort of like replacement vertebrae, by convergent evolution.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. I’m going to be doing mostly earlier Neoazhdarchids and work my way slowly up through the cenozoic, but this was too strange NOT to draw. 

Toothless flying “dragons” ruled Earth’s skies for tens of millions of years, a new study says.

Image: Artist’s rendition from a study in PLOS One in 2008 shows a group of giant azhdarchids, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, foraging on a Cretaceous fern prairie. (Courtesy of Mark P. Witton and Darren Naish)

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