Paul Ellenberger RIP

I just learned of the death in 2016
of Paul Ellenberger, a French paleontologist from Montpellier, who reached the age of 97 and wrote about Cosesaurus and several ichnotaxa, as we learned earlier here, here and here.

Ellenberger was kind enough
to host me, a stranger, for a day and a night, following my visit to Cosesaurus in Barcelona in the mid 1990s. We talked about it. I tried to convince him that he should be pleased to be the discoverer of the ‘mother of all pterosaurs‘, but he continued to insist it was a pre-bird. His discovery was published in 1974, but his conclusions were invalidated by several others, including Sanz and López-Martinez 1984, who considered Cosesaurus a juvenile Macrocnemus (which is close, but no cigar) and a lepidosaur (which was later confirmed by the large reptile tree.)

Figure 1. Cosesaurus insitu. No bones are present. This is a natural mold that includes an amorphous blob, a jellyfish, that trapped one foot of this unique specimen.

Figure 1. Cosesaurus insitu. No bones are present. This is a natural mold that includes an amorphous blob, a jellyfish, that trapped one foot of this unique specimen. This is a sister to the ancestor of pterosaurs. Note the antorbital fenestra without a fossa, convergent with proterosuchids.

Sad news about Cosesaurus
The authors of the Wikipedia Cosesaurus page have erased nearly all (but see below) data and references to Peters 2000a, the first paper that included Cosesaurus and related taxa added to several previously phylogenetic analyses that included archosaurs and pterosaurs. That study found pterosaurs nested with Cosesaurus and kin, not archosaurs in every analysis. The removal of this citation from the Wiki page is equivalent to sweeping data under the rug. Peters 2000a was a peer-reviewed publication in a respected academic journal.

If you’re looking for the ancestors of pterosaurs,
Cosesaurus is where you look. You can test the Peters 2000 hypothesis yourself with your own observations and phylogenetic analysis.

Perhaps an oversight,
the Wikipedia authors failed to delete the image of Cosesaurus that I provided several years ago with this caption:

“Here is the fossil known as Cosesaurus aviceps, the sole specimen of this genus. Although lizard-like in appearance, this Middle Triassic fenestrasaur/lizard had certain traits that place it on the lineage of Sharovipteryx, Longisquama and pterosaurs. Among these traits are: an elongated narial opening, an antorbital fenestra, a very large orbit, a spike-like quadratojugal, a strap-like scapula, a stem-like coracoid, an enlarged sternum displaced anteriorly to align with transverse clavicles, a pteroid, an elongated anterior process of the ilium, a sacrum consisting of four vertebrae, a prepubis, a simple hinge ankle joint without fusion of the astragalus and calcaneum, a calcaneum without a “heel” and an elongated pedal digit 5, plus soft tissue membranes arising from the trailing edges of the limbs and the dorsal margin of the spine and skull. No digits were vestigial, but manual digit V was reduced.”

As you might remember
earlier the authors of the Wikipedia page on pterosaurs lied with regard to my access to fossils. This line of thinking follows in lockstep Darren Naish’s bogus propaganda regarding the website, reviewed here. Naish’s blog and other efforts has gained followers and that’s not good for science. I hate to say it, but he’s going to come out as the leader of his suppressive minions when historians look back at this decade, unless he comes out and redeems himself soon. In private correspondence, I recently invited Naish to comment on the several recent papers that confirmed nestings first discovered in the LRT, but he dismissed that invitation. So we’ll have to fight this suppression of data a while longer.

Ellenberger P and de Villalta JF 1974. Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne). Note preliminaire. Acta Geologica Hispanica 9, 162-168.
Ellenberger P 1978. L’Origine des Oiseaux. Historique et méthodes nouvelles. Les problémes des Archaeornithes. La venue au jour de Cosesaurus aviceps (Muschelkalk supérieur) in Aspects Modernes des Recherches sur l’Evolution. In Bons, J. (ed.) Compt Ren. Coll. Montpellier 12-16 Sept. 1977. Vol. 1. Montpellier, Mém. Trav. Ecole Prat. Hautes Etudes, De l’Institut de Montpellier 4: 89-117.
Ellenberger P 1993. Cosesaurus aviceps . Vertébré aviforme du Trias Moyen de Catalogne. Étude descriptive et comparative. Mémoire Avec le concours de l’École Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Laboratorie de Paléontologie des Vertébrés. Univ. Sci. Tech. Languedoc, Montpellier (France). Pp. 1-664.
Peabody FE 1948. Reptile and amphibian trackways from the Lower Triassic Moenkopi formation of Arizona and Utah. University of California Publications, Bulletin of the Department of Geological Sciences 27: 295-468.
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 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-1330
Sanz JL and López-Martinez N 1984. The prolacertid lepidosaurian Cosesaurus aviceps Ellenberger & Villalta, a claimed ‘protoavian’ from the Middle Triassic of Spain. Géobios 17: 747-753.



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