Don’t give up on the origin of pterosaurs!

Evidently it is still widely held
that pterosaurs appeared suddenly without antecedent. As evidence of this failure to follow the data, I came across a blog called Tetrapod Flight in which the author, Leon Linde, writes on Monday, March 16, 2015:

  1. The first tetrapods to evolve powered flight were the pterosaurs. True
  2. These were a group of archosaurs related to the dinosaurs, but not dinosaurs themselves. False. Pterosaurs are lepidosaurs, not related to dinos. 
  3. The earliest known pterosaur was Eudimorphodon, who lived in what is now Italy around 230-220 million years ago, in the late Triassic. True enough
  4. However, while the earliest known pterosaur, Eudimorphodon had specialised multi-cusped teeth not found in any of the later pterosaurs, so it would not have been ancestral to them but rather part of a distinct pterosaur lineage that died out in the Triassic. False. Multicupsed teeth are found in several Triassic pterosaurs AND in their proximal sisters. 
  5. Furthermore, both Eudimorphodon and other late Triassic pterosaurs are “completely” developed, having all the typical pterosaur skeletal characteristics. True. That’s why they are called pterosaurs. They have all ‘the goods’.
  6. This suggests the origins of pterosaurs may lie even further back in the past, in the earlier Triassic or perhaps even in the Permian (Wellnhofer, 1991). Yes to the earlier (Middle) Triassic (Cosesaurus) and No to the Permian. 
  7. No fossils of the pterosaurs’ immediate ancestors are known. False. We have pterosaur proximal and distant ancestors going back to basal tetrapods with fins. Click here
  8. The most likely theory on their origins is that they evolved from arboreal creatures that would leap from branch to branch, flapping their forelimbs to stay airborne longer. Actually we have evidence for this scenario chronicled here.
  9. Pterosaur hips had great freedom of movement, their knees and ankles were hinge-like and their feet were plantigrade. True, True, True and False. Some beachcombers had plantigrade feet, but basal forms did not. 
  10. The knees and ankles did not permit the necessary rotation for them to move bipedally, so pterosaurs were obligate quadrupeds (though they may have had bipedal ancestors). False. Like living bipedal lizards, basal pterosaurs were bipedal and agile. We have their tracks! Later forms, especially beachcombers, were quadrupedal, and we have their tracks, too.
  11. A possible explanation for these features is that the early pterosaurs or proto-pterosaurs were arboreal creatures that evolved powerful leaping from branch to branch as an active mode of transport not dissimilar to that of arboreal leaping primates (Christopher, 1997). This reference should be Bennett 1997. Powerful leaping, fast running, yes, but without the use of the hands, which were flapping like those of birds and getting larger. Hard to develop wings when you’re using your hands on the ground. 
  12. These arboreal leapers would not have been gliders, who merely fall slowly downwards and forwards with the help of special flaps, but rather creatures utilising a quite different form of locomotion, one that led them to eventually having their forelimbs evolve into more and more sophisticated flapping airfoils. True! But not like the image below (which appeared on the blog post). This pretty but bogus image shows no flapping and no reason or benefit to having proto-wings on this dinosaur that should have been a fenestrasaur. 

Click to enlarge. A false series of pterosaur ancestors. Artist: Maija Karala.

this state of affairs in pterosaur research shows that the general public and pterosaur artists and workers alike are still stuck in the tail-dragging age. Evidently, they have decided to shun and overlook recent data that chronicles and documents the origin of pterosaurs.  See below and here.

Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods.  Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.
Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.
Peters D 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-1330
Wild R 1993. A juvenile specimen of Eudimorphodon ranzii Zambelli (Reptilia, Pterosauria) from the upper Triassic (Norian) of Bergamo. Rivisita Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali “E. Caffi” Bergamo 16: 95-120.




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