The big news this morning:
Andres, Clark and Xu (2014) have claimed to discover the earliest known pterodactyloid (Middle/Late Jurassic, Shishugou Formation in Xinjiang, China).They wrote: “We report here the earliest pterosaur with the diagnostic elongate metacarpus of the Pterodactyloidea, Kryptodrakon progenitor, gen. et sp. nov., from the terrestrial Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary of Northwest China. Phylogenetic analysis confirms this species as the basalmost pterodactyloid.”
Andres reported, “In paleontology, we love to find the earliest members of any group because we can look at them and figure out what they had that made the group so successful.”
If it is one, it’s a big one!
Wingspan estimates are over a meter.
That big size is the red flag
Of course, this flies in the face of the large pterosaur tree, which recovered four origins for pterodactyloid-grade pterosaurs at about this same time, and they were all tiny. Andres, Clark and Xu did not include these tiny pterosaurs in their phylogenetic analysis.
It’s always difficult to reassemble bits and pieces,
but not impossible. Andres, Clark and Xu did that above (Fig. 1), using a small Pterodactylus as their bauplan or blueprint.
There’s an alternate bauplan available
and it’s also from the same Shishugou Formation. Sericipterus is a very large and gracile dorygnathid (Fig. 2). When you put the bones of Krypodrakon on top of the bauplan for Sericipterus you find a good match.
And suddenly that “long metacarpus” is not so long anymore. Notably, Sericipterus had gracile wing bones, and that proved confusing to Andres, Clark and Xu. “Thinner” can sometimes be confused with “longer” unless you know what the bauplan is.
But wait, there’s more.
Compare the metacarpus of Kryptodrakon with its dorsal rib and the metacarpus doesn’t look so long anymore. The same holds for the distal carpal, scapula, humerus and wing joint scraps. They’re all too big for that metacarpus to be “elongate.”
A more parsimonious solution
Kryptodrakon and Seripterus are both from the same formation. They are the same size, and their bones have the same shape (so far as can be told from available scraps). We also know from a larger phylogenetic analysis that includes tiny pterosaurs that basal pterodactyloid-grade pterosaurs were all tiny and Kryptodrakon was big.
the more parsimonious solution is to consider Kryptodrakon a junior synonym for Sericipterus, a giant dorygnathid, not a pterodactyloid.
One more thing
Andres, Clark and Xu were also the discoverers and authors of Sercipterus, the only other pterosaur found in the Shishugou Formation.
Sorry to throw cold water on this.
But testing for parsimony is good Science.
Andres B, Clark JM and Xu X 2010.A new rhamphorhynchid pterosaur from the Upper Jurassic of Xinjiang, China, and the phylogenetic relationships of basal pterosaurs, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30: (1) 163-187.
Andres B, Clark J and Xu X 2014. The Earliest Pterodactyloid and the Origin of the Group. Current Biology (advance online publication)
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