I’m always interested in criticisms of my work. That’s why I read with great interest a recent Tetrapod Zoology blog by Scientific American writer, Darren Naish. It’s a tour de force slam on ReptileEvolution.com, which provides most of the data for the PterosaurHeresies.
Let’s Get Down To It
I’ve always said that the sister taxa in my 300+ study look like their nested sisters, which demonstrates the gradual change we should all expect in evolution. To counter that, Darren started off his report with an illustration that dismantled those spectral changes by illustrating a tree with just 14 disparate taxa. His tree is true, as far as the tree goes, but it doesn’t do the large reptile tree justice. A tree full of leaves in late Spring is a good model for the tree of life created by evolution. A tree hacked down to just 14 bare branches, each with a single leaf, gives a far different impression.
Something Old…and Sophomoric.
Darren kindly gave my dino books some free publicity. Then he illustrated one of many illustrations of several pterosaurs he dredged up from the 1990s. Darren, why go back to early uneducated illustrations when all of the latest, more mature materials are freely available on ReptileEvolution.com? Of course this makes me look bad! Those illustrations are sophomoric. There was growth between then and now! Several days ago I urged you to use the latest illustrations. That you chose not to demonstrates something I’ll leave for readers to judge. I don’t use those crappy illustrations anymore. In fact, I pulled them from circulation. There’s motive here.
Yes, those sophomoric pterosaur feet were digitigrade, likely because they were drawn prior to the 1995 flurry of new data on pterosaur tracks. As I described in Peters (2000) many pterosaurs had flat feet. Others, as demonstrated in Peters (2000, 2011), remained digitigrade. It’s 2012 Darren. Let’s go with the latest data and observations, please.
Breaking up the Ornithodira
Darren mentioned my early manuscript breaking up the Ornithodira and remarked, “* The title is inaccurate since, by definition, Ornithodira is the clade that includes Dinosauria and Pterosauria. Pterosaurs will always be ornithodirans, no matter where they end up in the tree of life.” Actually that’s not true. According to the large reptile tree, the most recent common ancestor of pterosaurs and dinosaurs is the basalmost reptile, Cephalerpeton. That means all descendants of a basal sister to Cephalerpeton (literally all reptiles, past and present) are also ornithodires, which was not the original intention of the author of that term. The term ‘Reptilia’ is older and thus has precedence over ‘Ornithodira.’ All this can be tested, by the way, by anyone who wishes to simply add the basal lizard Huehuecuetzpalli to any archosaur/pterosaur matrix. Not sure, considering the recent hubbub, why no one has done this yet… Seems rather easy to do…
More tomorrow and for several days hence, I presume. Hang in there, we’ll get through this together. Read Darren’s blog. See if you think it represents a fair criticism of the latest work seen in ReptileEvolution.com.
As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.
Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.
Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods. Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10420940.2011.573605