Restoring the skull of Quetzalcoatlus sp.

We know of at least three partial skulls of Quetzalcoatlus sp. (Kellner and Langston 1996), the smaller version of Q. northropi (Lawson 1975), for which no skull is known. This is how Kellner and Langston (1996) reconstructed the skull.

Figure 1. Quetzalcoatlus sp. skull according to Kellner and Langston (1996).

Figure 1. Quetzalcoatlus sp. skull according to Kellner and Langston (1996).

Since this is such a popular pterosaur, many have attempted restorations based on their access to the specimen and their own artistic license. See one here and another here.

Here’s how I do it.
Below are images traced from Kellner and Langston (1996), scaled to the same scale (they were nearly identical in length and proportion) then combined to create the restoration (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Quetzalcoatlus skulls individually and combined to create a restoration.

Figure 2. Quetzalcoatlus skulls individually and combined to create a restoration. Not preserved possible soft tissue in gray. Back of the skull based on chaoyangopterids and Zhejiangopterus. Not sure what to make of the two bony crest shapes (red and black), whether a result of taphonomy or individual variation. Considering the angle between the cranial and rostral parts of this skull, apparently Q kept its snout down, not out. 

The skull turns out to be a little taller due to a low rostral crest, with a taller antorbital fenestra. Kellner and Langson (1996) assumed that the dentary continued on to more of a point and that may be so considering the example of Azhdarcho. The details and sutures of the skull are sometimes easy to make out but otherwise the texture of the gnarled bone  makes things more difficult.

All the same size? Yes.
And what does that mean? Were all three specimens juveniles of the same age? Or adults of the same age but of a species distinct from Q. northropi? I don’t know.

Figure 3. The dentary tip of the TMM 42161 specimen, twisted and skewed in dorsal view. Not sure what to make of this. If  the tip does extend further (in pink), it likely does not extend very much further. The tip currently has the shape of a yardstick with some added ridges and valleys. Color represent distinct areas, not distinct bone. This is the anterior part of paired fused bones, the dentaries. Bottom view skewed segments unskewed. This dentary tip is wider than tall, unlike the tip of Eopteranodon and Eoazzhdarcho.

Figure 3. The dentary tip of the TMM 42161 specimen, twisted and skewed in dorsal view. Not sure what to make of this. If the tip does extend further (in pink), it likely does not extend very much further. The tip currently has the shape of a yardstick with some added ridges and valleys. Color represent distinct areas, not distinct bone. This is the anterior part of paired fused bones, the dentaries. Bottom view skewed segments unskewed. This dentary tip is wider than tall, unlike the tip of Eopteranodon and Eoazzhdarcho. Green areas are hypothetical lines to join and continue apparent missing areas. 

The dentary tip
I can only wonder what is going on at the tip of this dentary. It was skewed left and right several times, but in lateral view it appears undistorted. Distinct from sharp-jawed and tooth-tipped Eopteranodon and Eoazhdarcho (which are not azhdarchids), this rostral tip Fig. 3) is wider than tall, like a yardstick. It doesn’t appear strong enough to battle prey that fights back, but supports a gentle wading after tiny crustacean lifestyle.

References
Kellner AWA and Langston W 1996. Cranial remains of Quetzalcoatlus (Pterosauria, Azhdarchidae) from late Cretaceous sediments of Big Bend National Park, Texas. – Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16: 222–231.
Lawson DA 1975. Pterosaur from the latest Cretaceous of West Texas: discovery of the largest flying creature. Science 187: 947-948.

wiki/Quetzalcoatlus

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