Behind the Scenes at the AMNH pterosaur exhibit

Here‘s a NY Times article about the new AMNH pterosaur exhibit. We looked at the AMNH pterosaur exhibit website earlier here. The online article url was sent to me by “I love pterosaurs” who wants me to “Please, learn how real scientist work.” [sic]

Okay, let’s see how real scientists work.
The following is from the online article (unfortunately, only a fraction focused on the pterosaurs and their artistic creation):

“Most of the questions that we actually get from artists, the answer is, ‘I don’t know,’” Dr. Kellner said. But the more research that’s done, the closer their guess can be on an animal that’s been extinct for 66 million years.

“In art you can do whatever you want,” Dr. Kellner said. “You have an expression of how you feel about a certain subject. But in paleo art, you don’t have that liberty. You must try to present the reconstruction of those animals the best way that you can based on true scientific evidence.”

“Sometimes, changes in science happen so quickly that an artist’s creation must be considerably altered. The feet of Quetzalcoatlus underwent major changes as well: Five toes per foot were edited down to four; they were shortened and the toenails removed.”

Sounds like the artists are getting good advice “based on scientific evidence” from the curators, but then…

Good gravy!
I haven’t seen any pterosaurs with four toes. There’s always a vestige to #5. And if these are the toes (they’re big ones, Fig. 1) the AMNH is advertising their inaccuracies early. Someone must have been influenced by theropods here (Fig. 1) because azhdarchid toes don’t go short on number 1.

Figure 1. Based on their size, these must be the Quetzalcoatlus feet and hands. I've added some real azhdarchid feet and ichnites here. Metatarsals should be appressed to match the fossils and tracks. All metatarsals should be subequal. Claws are not supported be really big. It's too bad no one looked at the data here.

Figure 1. Based on their size, these must be the Quetzalcoatlus feet and hands. I’ve added some real azhdarchid feet and ichnites here. Metatarsals should be appressed to match the fossils and tracks. All four medial metatarsals should be subequal. Claws should not be so thck. Remember the bones are more like soda straws than robust dino feet. It’s too bad no one looked at the data here.

Azhdarchid feet were narrow, with appressed metatarsals, as their fossils and ichnites show (Fig. 1). The evidence does not support these feet.

However
Not all giant pterosaurs were azhdarchids. Earlier we looked at some wider giant bipedal Korean pterosaur tracks here, likely made my tapejarids or shenzhoupterids with webbed feet, as shown in the AMNH feet (Fig. 1) . Even so four long metatarsals and toes is the rule. If the above pterosaur made tracks they would be mistaken for theropod tracks.

Figure 2. Basic errors in the big Quetzalcoatlus model.

Figure 2. Basic errors in the big Quetzalcoatlus model. The short wings and ultra size give away the genus.

Damn, I hate to see this.
I know those artists are working hard to get things as accurate as possible. So don’t blame them. They’re only taking orders.

On the good side:
The color, texture and size of the model pterosaurs is great. And so is their presentation. I just think they missed the excitement of pterosaurs the way the fossils reveal them to be.

And that’s the reason behind this blog. It’s a crusade for scientific accuracy supported by evidence.

Quetzalcoatlus in dorsal view, flight configuration.

Figure 3. Quetzalcoatlus in dorsal view, flight configuration based on bones from Q sp.  and wing membranes form other pteros.

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