Yesterday, and the day before, we reviewed Hone and Henderson (2013) who conducted computational experiments with four misbegotten digital pterosaur models (Fig. 1). They reported that pterosaurs were unlikely floaters that would have struggled to keep their noses above the surface and so risked drowning, despite their air-filled skeletons.
After seeing Jurassic Park I, II and III, many readers may think that digital modeling with computers has already reached some sort of acme, able to accurately model these reptiles with ultra-precision. Unfortunately, when it comes to academic publication, that’s not always the case. And yet such works as Hone, Sullivan and Bennett (2009), Henderson (2010) and Hone and Henderson (2013) continue to be published.
Bring up the quality please…
I have no beef with digital models, but the quality has to be there. The last time I saw Hone present a digital model it was for a sabertooth paw built with digital cylinders designed to discredit PILs (Hone, Sullivan and Bennett 2009, Fig. 1). These cylinders did not echo the real bone configurations. Taking up this challenge (Peters 2010) used a real sabertooth paw (Fig. 1) and found PILs, as anyone can.
In similar fashion,
Henderson’s (2010) digital model of Quetzalcoatlus (Fig. 3) has been wisely criticized as also being inaccurate*. It’s as if he did not pay any attention to the bones and soft tissues preserved and the implications those have for muscle masses, especially those of the hind limb. In other words, Henderson seems to have skipped a very important step: start with the bones and create an accurate reconstruction on paper before going digital. The same holds true for his Rhamphorhynchus (Fig. 2).
I have no trouble with those who make 3D reconstuctions digitally. I think that’s the wave of the future. I do have a problem with those who claim they are accurate when they are not. And likewise I have a problem with referees and colleagues who give a green light to these little monsters, permitting these pterosaur experts to disfigure pterosaurs.
* from Wikipedia/Quetzalcoatlus: “Henderson’s work was further criticized by Habib, who pointed out that although Henderson used excellent mass estimations, they were based on outdated pterosaur models,”
Henderson, DM. 2010. Pterosaur body mass estimates from three-dimensional mathematical slicing, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30(3):768-785.
Hone DWE, Sullivan C, Bennett SC 2009. Interpreting the autopodia of tetrapods: interphalangeal lines hinge on too many assumptions.Historical Biology (Impact Factor: 1.19). 03/2009; 21:67-77. DOI:10.1080/08912960903154503
Hone DWE, Henderson DM 2013. The posture of floating pterosaurs: Ecological implications for inhabiting marine and freshwater habitats, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2013 accepted manuscript), doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.11.022
Peters, D. 2010. In defence of parallel interphalangeal lines. Historical Biology iFirst article, 2010, 1–6 DOI: 10.1080/08912961003663500