On this anniversary PterosaurHeresies.com blog
Doggone it!! We still don’t know where pterosaurs came from, that according to Wikipedia and most pterosaur workers. Wiki states, “Because pterosaur anatomy has been so heavily modified for flight, and immediate “missing link” predecessors have not so far been described, the ancestry of pterosaurs is not well understood.”
Not Sure Where This Came From
Wiki also reports, “Two researchers, Chris Bennett (1996) and David Peters (2000), have found pterosaurs to be prolacertiformes or closely related to them. Bennett only recovered pterosaurs as close relatives of the prolacertiformes after removing characteristics of the hind limb from his analysis, in an attempt to test the idea that these characters are the result of convergent evolution between pterosaurs and dinosaurs.” This account follows Hone and Benton (2007, 2008) as it rewrites history. Bennett (1996, Fig. 2) actually found that pterosaurs nested with Scleromochlus, but when hind limb traits were removed, Bennett (1996, Fig. 3) found that pterosaurs nested between Proterosuchidae and Erythrosuchidae. It’s true. You can look it up. You’ll remember that Hone and Benton (2008) also gave Bennett credit for the Prolacertiform hypothesis after Hone and Benton (2007) gave that credit to Peters (2000). I’ll never understand that turnabout. What were they thinking??
Wiki concludes with the latest in pterosaur origins: “Sterling Nesbitt (2011) found strong support for a clade composed of Scleromochlus and pterosaurs.” We covered this improbability earlier. Note the tiny fingers and the lack of a pedal digit 5 in Scleromochlus for starters.
After a year of evidence, I still haven’t convinced the Wiki writers that we have a nice series of taxa in the Fenestrasauria/Tritosauria/Lepidosauria clade that demonstrates a gradual accumulation of pterosaurian traits. And please, we need to forget about prolacertiformes. They are not a part of this story. With the Fenestrsauria we can remove the skull, remove the post-crania, look at just the feet or the pectoral girdle and still find that Cosesaurus and kin nest with pterosaurs. It’s rock solid.
In all sincerity
I want to take a moment to sincerely thank the following professors for inspiring me to go online with these daily heresies.
Dr. David Hone
Dr. Michael Benton
Dr. Sterling Nesbitt
Dr. Mike Taylor
Dr. David Marjanovic
Dr. David Unwin
Dr. Chris Bennett
Dr. Kevin Padian
Dr. Mark Witton
Dr. Eberhard Dino Frey
Dr. Peter Wellnhofer
Dr. Robert Reisz
Dr. Michel Laurin
Dr. Darren Naish
Dr. Michael Habib
The web has been a great place to respond quickly, publish in color and provide animations and overlays. I should have done this earlier!
A Little Backstory
More than a year ago I was soundly derided for comparing baseball’s desegregation in 1947 to adding taxa to phylogenetic analyses to test relationships. All I said was you can’t know for sure if pterosaurs are not lizards if you don’t permit lizards into your phylogenetic analyses. That attitude of exclusion is still out there. I started this blog because paleontology needs a ‘Branch Rickey’ to see if pterosaurs are indeed archosaurs or lizards, to see if casesaurs are indeed synapsids or millerettids and to see if Vancleavea is indeed an archosaur or a thalattosaur. Testing is the only solution. Put them all together in one big tree, let the taxa interact, and THEN we’ll see where things nest. Exclusion is not the best policy in both baseball and paleontology. Not sure why that thought continues to go unaccepted a year later.
I was also derided and sent packing from the Dinosaur Mailing List for suggesting a test between seeing a specimen first hand and studying a specimen from photographs. I think insights can be gained both ways, as has been demonstrated several times in the past year, as in the discovery of the first flightless pterosaur, Sos 2428 and in a new understanding of Vancleavea as a thalattosaur.
More eyes on the ground finds more fossils.
More eyes on family trees finds more relationships. Oversight happens. Hypotheses based on evidence should always be welcomed and considered. THEN we an talk about it and come to a consensus. Unfortunately thinking outside the mainstream has been shunned and derided (from my experience). It’s perplexing the thinking that goes on out there. Perhaps there’s something about ‘defending the castle’ out there even when the status quo doesn’t have the answer, as widely acknowledged by the paleo establishment (see above with regard to pterosaurs). Note my detractors never point to two sisters on the large reptile tree that clearly have no business nesting together (other than M. Mortimer who pointed out two rather closely related taxa should be more closely related, but this hardly upsets the tree topology). Rather they dismiss my “methods,” (Hone and Benton 2007, 2008) while falsifying, misrepresenting and bungling the facts. That’s dismissing the messenger while ignoring the message.
Not Enough Characters
Mickely Mortimer has kindly suggested that I need to add more characters to my study. As you know, there are potentially millions of characters out there to be tested (femur length to jaw length, for instance). Thankfully the current character list of 228 has been sufficient to completely resolve the tree (save for some very incomplete taxa). I understand the need for more characters someday, but I’m going to leave that Herculean task for the next worker to handle. Anyone is free to add characters to the existing data matrix (available by request). No one needs to start from scratch here.
I hope the interesting topics keep coming.
Thank you all for your support and comments. It’s been a joy and it has kept me in “the game.” We’ve covered a lot of heretical topics, from Daemonosaurus to Jeholopterus. I only hope these posts inspire further study. And if any mistakes are found, please continue to bring them to my attention. I will make those corrections.
Viewership runs a minimum of 200 per day. More than occasionally 400 will stop by. 1,113 views came this way on the busiest day, January 26, 2012. That was a report on the synapsid, Biseridens. 80,739 views all-time (as I write this June 28 about a week away.)
Thank you, one and all,
Hone DWE and Benton MJ 2007. An evaluation of the phylogenetic relationships of the pterosaurs to the archosauromorph reptiles. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 5:465–469.
Hone DWE and Benton MJ 2008. Contrasting supertree and total evidence methods: the origin of the pterosaurs. Zitteliana B28:35–60.
Nesbitt SJ 2011. The early evolution of archosaurs: relationships and the origin of major clades”. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 352: 1–292. DOI:10.1206/352.1.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.