Pteranodon – Chimaeras and Fakes – part 2

Go to the KU natural history museum at the University of Kansas at Lawrence and downstairs you fill find a spectacular mounted Pteranodon (KU VP 2212)  in all of its glory. You might be disappointed only by the lack of a traditional long or tall crest on the cranium.

Figure 1. A Pteranodon chimaera created from the bones of several species. KU VP 2212.

Figure 1. A Pteranodon chimaera created from the bones of several species. KU VP 2212.

Upon closer inspection — It’s not just one specimen, but many
Created, like a Frankenstein monster from the dead bodies of several individuals and probably different species, the KUVP 2212 mounted specimen (Fig. 1) is nevertheless spectacular to behold. Be wary though of using all of its bits and pieces in phylogenetic analysis for therein lies madness. They say this specimen is a composite, or chimaera, of twenty specimens. Even the two feet came from different individuals (Fig. 2), at least one of which was flat-footed, distinct from other Pteranodon pedes.

Figure 2. A reconstruction of the chimaera that is KU VP 2212. Created from several individuals and several species, this mounted specimen cannot be used in toto in phylogenetic analysis.

Figure 2. A reconstruction of the chimaera that is KU VP 2212. Created from several individuals and several species, this mounted specimen cannot be used in toto in phylogenetic analysis.

The skull
belongs to a mid-sized species near the node at which the tall-crested P. sternbergia clade split from the long-crested P. ingens clade. Compared to other more complete specimens, like the Triebold specimen (Fig. 3), the skull of the KU specimen is inappropriately small. Earlier we looked at an artist who reconstructed his Pteranodon with a too small skull. Wonder if this was the inspiration?

The Triebold Pteranodon, one of the most complete ever found. The metacarpals are quite a bit longer here. So is the beak.

Figure 2. The Triebold Pteranodon, one of the most complete ever found. Compare the proportions with KU VP 2212, which is a next of kin phylogenetically (at least with regards to the skull.) This specimen is basal to the P. sternbergia clade of tall crested Pteranodon.

The flat foot of the KU specimen
belongs to a member of the P. sternbergia clade because another member, the Alberta Pteranodon, has similar proportions.

My what big arms you have!
The monster antebrachiumu of the KU specimen belong to the P. ingens clade, which also have digitgrade pedes.

The very short femur
means it probably belonged to a smaller, generally more primitive species of Pteranodon, like P. occidentals. The lack of more than a few reasonably complete Pteranodon specimens hinders more precise identification. Not sure yet about the field notes for the KU specimen. There is no paper focused on just it.

Complete specimens are hard to come by.
Museums needed large spectacular mounts to drive in their audience. The old way of thinking was: “Why not create a chimaera? After all, who’s going to know?”

It’s not exactly deception,
but creating a chimaera display mount is a practice from the past that hopefully will no longer be considered viable as interest in these fossils and their phylogeny becomes more serious.

I’ll tackle another Pteranodon chimaera as #7 in this series.

A paper written on fossil fakes is online here.

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