This is the first in a series of Triassic pterosaur enigmas.
An odd jumble of Triassic bones was identified by Dalla Vecchia, Muscio and Wild (1983) as the remains of Preondactylus (Fig. 2), one of the few Triassic pterosaurs known at that time, in a gastric pellet (aka: vomited bones). The problem is, if you put the bones, as originally identified, on a reconstruction of Preondactylus, you’ll find a few matches and several mismatches (Fig. 1).
Generally the wing finger elements are too gracile and so is the femur. The dorsals are a bit too long and metacarpal 4, the base of the wing, is not quite large enough.
Putting the originally traced bones together in a different, yet still Triassic way, yields a pre- or proto-pterosaur with some resemblance to Longisquama. Now the more gracile and possibly much shorter wings make some sort of sense, because this was not a flyer, but a running flapper and a glider at best. Of course, in this case, I was able to draw the imagined parts “to fit.”
Freddy Mercury put it best, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
Wouldn’t it be exciting if the gastric pellet, now known for over 30 years, turned out to be an example of a transitional/basal taxon? Odd that only segments of all four wing phalanges would be preserved.
After producing these images I learned the pellet is under study once again. Hopefully those studies will help resolve this mystery.
When I ran the published images through DGS I was able to identify many other bones and create another much more complete reconstruction that also made sense. It was standard basal pterosaur. But then, the data I was using was poor at best.
Given the mishmash of the in situ fossil, the poor quality of my data and the detailed new study of the gastric pellet specimen to come, I hesitate putting it out early. I will say that the originally identified ‘palatine’ and ‘pterygoid’ are probably the first two dorsal ribs, which were more robust than the others, as in other pterosaurs. And several more ribs are present, which were generally overlooked in the original tracing (Fig. 1).
Dalla Vecchia FM, Muscio G and Wild R 1983. Pterosaur remains in a gastric pellet from the Upper Triassic (Norian) of Rio Seazza Valley (Udine, Italy). Gortania – Atti Museo Friul. Storia Naturale 10(88):121-132.