3

There’s a kids’ anime about soccer that has a surprisingly decent Quetzalcoatlus character.

He’s called Tochan (meaning “Dad,” as he’s a human character’s adoptive parent) and… well, look at him! Plantigrade feet, stands on all fours, not a bat wing in sight. He even has visible pteroid bones with propatagia. (The pteroid is the little knob that sticks out partway down each arm, and the propatagium is the flight membrane attached to the pteroid.) 'Course, I have no idea how this thing is able to play soccer, but that’s beside the point.

Ain’t he cute?

It’s a long weekend, and we’re out of here! 

Are you in the city this holiday weekend? Don’t let the rain get you down, there’s so much to see and discover at the Museum, from special exhibitions to our iconic permanent halls. 

Here are some highlights from the past week:

Have a great weekend!

Most of the time evolution just hangs out being all, “Bug. More bug. Shinier bug. Slightly bigger AND shinier bug. Too many legs bug? Yessss.”

But other times evolution just goes completely off its rocker and is like “guys GUYS LOOK AT THIS CLADE I JUST INVENTED”

"IT’S GOT THIS FLAPPY POINTY THING"

"AND THIS CHOMPY PIECE OF SPAGHETTI"

"SOME KIND OF GLIDEY THING"

SO FIT FOR THEIR ENVIRONMENTS AMIRITE WOW”

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.

6

Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy by Mark P. Witton

For 150 million years, the skies didn’t belong to birds—they belonged to the pterosaurs. These flying reptiles, which include the pterodactyls, shared the world with the nonavian dinosaurs until their extinction 65 million years ago. Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding thirty feet and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes. This richly illustrated book takes an unprecedented look at these astonishing creatures, presenting the latest findings on their anatomy, ecology, and extinction.

Pterosaurs features some 200 stunning illustrations, including original paintings by Mark Witton and photos of rarely seen fossils. After decades of mystery, paleontologists have finally begun to understand how pterosaurs are related to other reptiles, how they functioned as living animals, and, despite dwarfing all other flying animals, how they managed to become airborne. Here you can explore the fossil evidence of pterosaur behavior and ecology, learn about the skeletal and soft-tissue anatomy of pterosaurs, and consider the newest theories about their cryptic origins. This one-of-a-kind book covers the discovery history, paleobiogeography, anatomy, and behaviors of more than 130 species of pterosaur, and also discusses their demise at the end of the Mesozoic.

  • The most comprehensive book on pterosaurs ever published
  • Features some 200 illustrations, including original paintings by the author
  • Covers every known species and major group of pterosaurs
  • Describes pterosaur anatomy, ecology, behaviors, diversity, and more
  • Encourages further study with 500 references to primary pterosaur literature

Mark P. Witton is a paleontologist in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth. He has served as a technical consultant for Walking with Dinosaurs 3D and many other film and television productions. His illustrations of pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric creatures have appeared in numerous publications, including Science and newspapers around the world.

http://markwitton-com.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/pterosaurs-natural-history-evolution.html

[Image: A flock of Hatzegopteryx. One paces along on all fours, another rockets into flight by pushing off with its strong forelimbs, and the rest soar above them.]

Pterosaur Myths Busted (V3)

Pterosaurs are a staple of movies featuring prehistoric animals—yet most media depictions of the poor beasts remain woefully stuck in the 19th century. Real pterosaurs were just about nothing like the sluggish, flimsy-winged gliders that populated our childhood picture books and movies. Here we take a look at how some common misconceptions about them stack up against the facts. 

Misconception: “Pterodactyl” and “pterosaur” mean the same thing.

Fact: “Pterosaur” applies to the entire group, but “pterodactyl” is only correct when you’re referring to, well, pterodactyloids.

In general, pterodactyls had proportionally shorter tails, longer necks, bigger heads, and longer hand bones than non-pterodactyls. Compare these skeletal drawings of Rhamphorhynchus (a non-pterodactyl) and Pteranodon (the ’dactyl of Jurassic Park fame).

M: Pterosaurs were dinosaurs.

F: Dinosaurs fall under the orders Ornithischia and Saurischia. Pterosaurs do not belong to either group, though current evidence places them as close relatives of the dinosaurs within Ornithodira

M: Pterosaurs were the ancestors of birds.

F: Like their cousins Velociraptor and T. rex, birds are a type of theropod dinosaur. Pterosaurs left no living descendants.

M: Pterosaurs had scaly / leathery / bald skin.

F: Though the pads of their feet were scaly, most of a pterosaur’s body was covered in hairlike filaments called pycnofibers. Pterosaurs of the primitive family Anurognathidae, such as the one shown below, seem to have been fluffed up from snout to tail with pycnofibers.

M: Pterosaurs were “cold-blooded.”

F: Nope. With no body heat to insulate there wouldn’t be much point to pycnofibers.

M: Pterosaurs could pick things up with their feet.

F: Their feet were much better suited to walking than grasping. Like humans, they had plantigrade feet—in other words, the entire sole of the foot contacted the ground as they walked.

M: Grounded pterosaurs walked on their hind legs / could only crawl around on their bellies.

F: Pterosaurs usually walked on all fours, and many were quite adept at ground locomotion to boot, especially the pterodactyls. Some, such as the dsungaripteroids, may even have been capable of galloping. The three in the illustration below are shown badgering an azhdarchid for its kill.

M: All pterosaurs had teeth / were toothless.

F: Pterosaurs had all kinds of dental arrangements, from completely toothless to jaws positively bristling with the things—just look at Pterodaustro below. (Pteranodon was toothless, by the way; its name even means “toothless wing.”)

 

M: Females of crested species had large head crests like the males.

F: Head crests were probably sexually dimorphic, with males usually having much larger, more elaborate head decoration, as demonstrated by these two Darwinopterus

M: Pterosaur wing membranes were leathery, flimsy and prone to tearing.

F: Pterosaur wings were supple, complex, multilayered structures. They were reinforced with closely-packed fibers called aktinofibrils. 

M: Each wing was supported by several fingers like a bat’s.

F: Only the hugely elongated fourth finger supported the wing; the other three fingers were much smaller. See here for a diagram of the pterosaur wing. 

M: Pterosaurs had sharply-pointed wing tips.

F: Such a wing shape would have made flight difficult. Here’s our anurognathid friend again, showing off its nice rounded wing tips for you.

 

M: Some pterosaurs were too big / heavy to fly.

F: Even the largest pterosaurs were probably capable of powered flight. 

M: Pterosaurs could only take off by falling from a cliff / tree / [insert high starting point here].

F: They could launch into flight under their own power using all four limbs, a strategy also known in some modern bats. This is called “quadrupedal launch” (or just “quad launch”). See this video for a pterosaur quad launch demonstration.

M: All pterosaurs were ocean-going fish hunters.

F: They occupied a variety of niches, and many lived inland.

M: Pterosaurs cared for their hatchlings in much the same way as modern birds.

F: Other than protecting them during the hatching process, pterosaur parents might not have had much to do with their offspring (called “flaplings”) since they could probably fly almost immediately after birth.

Recent findings reveal that at least some pterosaurs, such as Hamipterus, were social and may have built their nests together in huge colonies.

M: Pterosaurs went extinct because they were outcompeted by birds.

F: The evidence for this idea is weak at best.

M: Live pterosaur sightings prove that pterosaurs never really went extinct. 

F: This idea relies on scant evidence as well. 

—————

If you have anything more than a passing interest in pterosaurs, you really should pick up a copy of paleontologist Mark Witton’s book on themPterosaur.net is another useful resource of information about these fascinating, ridiculous creatures.

Sources to avoid include David Peters’ Pterosaur Heresies and ReptileEvolution.com. While these sites seem professional on the surface and feature loads of attractive artwork, scientists have been unable to replicate the results of Peters’ research, and repeatable results are a hallmark of good science. Read more about Peters here (PDF), here and here

(Credit: Skeletal drawings by Scott Hartman; all other illustrations by Mark Witton.) ( #long post )

Meet Dimorphodon, the toothy pterosaur.

Discovered in the 1820s on the coast of southern England, by a young woman, Mary Anning, famed for her fossil-finding abilities, Dimorphodon earned its names for its distinctive dentition. Dimorphodon, the genus name, means “two-formed tooth” and refers to the animal’s two types of teeth: Long, curved fangs that jut from the front of the jaws, and a row of short pointed teeth that lies behind.

Learn more about this pterosaur.

[Image: Pteranodon by Larry Felder]

Pterosaur Myths Busted (V2.0!)

Pterosaurs are a staple of movies featuring prehistoric animals, yet most media depictions of the poor beasts remain woefully stuck in the 19th century. In reality, there was much more to these astonishing animals than many of us could have gleaned from the sluggish flimsy-winged gliders of our childhoods. Here we take a look at how some common misconceptions about pterosaurs stack up against the facts. 

Misconception: “Pterodactyl” and “pterosaur” mean the same thing.

Fact: “Pterosaur” applies to the entire group, but “pterodactyl” is only correct when used in reference to the subgroup Pterodactyloidea.

M: Pterosaurs were dinosaurs.

F: Dinosaurs fall under the orders Ornithischia and Saurischia. Pterosaurs do not belong to either group, though current evidence places them as close relatives of the dinosaurs within Ornithodira

M: Pterosaurs were the ancestors of birds.

F: Birds are a lineage of theropod dinosaurs which first appeared in the Jurassic. Unlike dinosaurs, pterosaurs left no living descendants.

M: Pterosaurs were scaly.

F: Though the pads of their feet had scales, most of a pterosaur’s body was covered in hairlike filaments called pycnofibers. Pterosaurs of the primitive family Anurognathidae, such as the one shown below, seem to have been fluffed up from snout to tail with pycnofibers.

M: Pterosaurs were cold-blooded.

F: Nope. With no body heat to insulate there wouldn’t be much point to pycnofibers.   

M: Pterosaurs could pick things up with their feet.

F: Their feet were largely inflexible and much better suited to walking than grasping. Like humans, they employed plantigrade locomotion—in other words, the entire sole of the foot contacted the ground as they walked.

M: Grounded pterosaurs walked on their hind legs/could only crawl around on their bellies.

F: They were quadrupeds, and most were quite adept at ground locomotion to boot. Some, such as the dsungaripteroids, may even have been capable of galloping. The three in the illustration below are shown badgering an azhdarchid for its kill.

M: All pterosaurs had teeth/were toothless.

F: Pterosaurs had all kinds of dental arrangements, from completely toothless to jaws positively bristling with the things—just look at Pterodaustro. (Pteranodon was toothless, by the way, hence the genus name meaning “toothless wing”.) 

M: All pterosaurs had long tails.

F: Long tails were apparently restricted to the earlier, non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs.  

M: Females of crested species had large head crests like the males.

F: Head crests were probably sexually dimorphic, with males usually having much larger, more elaborate cranial decoration, as demonstrated by these two Darwinopterus

M: The wing membranes were leathery, flimsy and prone to tearing.

F: Pterosaur wings were complex, multilayered structures, supple and reinforced with closely-packed fibers called aktinofibrils. 

M: Each wing was supported by several fingers like a bat’s.

F: Only the hugely elongated fourth finger supported the wing; the other three fingers were much smaller. See here.

M: Pterosaurs had sharply-pointed wingtips.

F: Such a wing shape would have made flight difficult. The wingtips were rounded.

M: Some pterosaurs were too big/heavy to fly.

F: Even the largest pterosaurs were probably capable of powered flight.

M: Pterosaurs could only take off by falling off a cliff/tree/[insert high starting point here].

F: They could take off under their own power using all four limbs. See this video.

M: All pterosaurs were ocean-going fish hunters.

F: They occupied a variety of niches, and many lived inland.

M: Pterosaurs cared for their hatchlings in much the same way as modern birds.

F: Other than protecting them during the hatching process, pterosaur parents might not have had much to do with their offspring (called “flaplings”) since they were independent almost immediately after birth.

M: Pterosaurs went extinct because they were outcompeted by birds.

F: The evidence for this idea is weak at best.

M: Live pterosaur sightings indicate that the group never really went extinct. 

F: This assertion relies on scant evidence as well. 

~~~~~

If you have anything more than a passing interest in pterosaurs, you really should pick up a copy of paleontologist Mark Witton’s new book on themWikipedia and Pterosaur.net are other useful resources of information about these fascinating, ridiculous creatures.

Sources to avoid include David Peters’ Pterosaur Heresies and ReptileEvolution.com. While these sites look professional on the surface and feature loads of attractive artwork, scientists have been unable to replicate the results of his research, and replicable results are a hallmark of good science. Read more about Peters here (PDF), here and here

(Credit: Other than the Pteranodon up top, all illustrations in this post are by the ever-awesome Mark Witton.)

Pterosaur Myths Busted

[Image: Volgadraco by Andrey Atuchin]

Pterosaurs, the membrane-winged reptiles that ruled the skies of the Mesozoic, are some of the most popular prehistoric animals among kids (and the young at heart). But how well do you know them? Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions and the corresponding facts about these animals, with the myths bolded: 

M: “Pterodactyl” and “pterosaur” mean the same thing.

F: “Pterosaur” applies to the entire group, but “pterodactyl” is only correct when used in reference to the subgroup Pterodactyloidea.

M: Pterosaurs were dinosaurs.

F: Dinosaurs fall under the orders Ornithischia and Saurischia. Pterosaurs do not belong to either group. 

M: Pterosaurs were the ancestors of birds.

F: Birds are a lineage of theropod dinosaurs which first appeared in the Jurassic. Unlike dinosaurs, pterosaurs left no living descendants.

Keep reading

3

Quetzalcoatlus - the largest pterosaur 

Reconstructions by Mark Witton. 

When: Late Cretaceous (68-65 million years ago)

Where: North America

What: Quetzalcoatlus is a gigantic pterosaur. Just how gigantic it was has been the subject of some debate, as no 100% complete specimen has been found. While the first estimates put its wingspan at up to 50 feet (16 meters) this has been reduced to 36 feet (11 meters) in the latest studies. The reason for this disparity is due to allometry - the physical properties of bones require that as an animal gets larger its skeletal structure is not just that of a smaller animal made larger. Thus the wing bones of Quetzalcoatlus were relatively thicker than that of a smaller species, and while this was taken into account in the first estimates, it took a better understanding of pterosaur evolution in general for a refined estimate to be generated. 

This large size brings with it another debate: could Quetzalcoatlus fly? The answer is yes, this pterosaur sailed over prehistoric Texas. A big mystery was how Quetzalcoatlus could take off, and recent work by functional morphologists has provided a solution to this puzzle. Pterosaurs differed from all other flying vertebrates in that they retained the majority of the digits on their hand outside of the wing itself; this not only allowed these fingers to be used to manipulate their environment, but was critical for terrestrial locomotion. Quetzalcoatlus was quadrupedal on the ground, like all other pterosaurs, but it had a specially developed system of ligaments and tendons in its wrist joint that allowed it to ‘spring’ up and take flight.  This can be seen in this video.  

Another, more minor, debate is what did Quetzalcoatlus eat? Most pterosaurs are closely associated with large bodies of water and have a fish based diet - but all Quetzalcoatlus remains have been found hundres of miles from ancient shorelines. This, combined with morphology of the skull, has lead to the conclusion that these giants instead fed on smaller vertebrate that they would capture with their large beaks, such as the baby sauropod not having a good day in one of the reconstructions above.