A giant Romanian pterosaur mandible fragment

FIgure 1. LPB R 2347 largest pterosaur mandible compared to Bakonydraco.

FIgure 1. LPB R 2347 largest pterosaur mandible compared to Bakonydraco.

Vremir et al. 2018
describe a pterosaur mandible fragment (Figs. 1, 2), “This specimen represents the largest pterosaur mandible ever found and provides insights into the anatomy of the enigmatic giant pterosaurs.”

Figure 2. LPR pterosaur mandible compared to related taxa, like Eopteranodon, and to the largest known pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus. Figure 2. LPR pterosaur mandible compared to related taxa, like Eopteranodon, and to the largest known pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus.

Figure 2. LPR pterosaur mandible compared to related taxa, like Eopteranodon, and to the largest known pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus to scale.

It’s worthwhile
to place the jaw fragment in context with other pterosaurs. We don’t have a similar jaw fragment for the big Quetzalcoatlus (Fig. 2), which likely stood twice as tall as the giant eopteranodontid owner of the jaw fragment. Bakonydraco is a likely eopteranodontid, larger than Eopteranodon, but much smaller than the jaw fragment owner.

Earlier this jaw fragment was used as the basis for restoring the rest of this pterosaur as a giant azhdarchid nicknamed, ‘Dracula’ (with beaucoup errors, Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Dracula the giant azhdarchid pterosaur museum mount. Hopefully it's not too late to fix the problems here.

Figure 2. Dracula the giant pterosaur model built and based on the jaw fragment in today’s post. That’s a lot of imagination!

References
Vremir M et al. 2018. Partial mandible of a giant pterosaur from the uppermost Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of the HaÈeg Basin, Romania. Lethaia doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/let.12268 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/let.12268

Switching pedal phalanges on Sylviornis

According to Worthy et al. 2016
“Numerous phalanges are known for Sylviornis neocaledoniae. While no articulated material is known, the collection reveals that this bird had the usual digital formula of 2:3:4:5 for digits I to IV as shown in a composite set (Fig 11, here Fig. 1) assembled based on matching size of the elements from The Pocket, in Cave B.”

Figure 1. By switching two phalages (2.1 and 4.1) you get a pes that includes a p3.1>p2.1 as in all sister taxa. This minor change is revealed by phylogenetic analysis.

Figure 1. By switching two phalages (2.1 and 4.1) you get a pes that includes a p3.1>p2.1 as in all sister taxa. Note the red PIL intersecting the joint when repaired. This minor change is revealed by phylogenetic analysis. Image modified from Worthy et al. 2016. Cave bones, like this, can sometimes be scattered.

Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Poplin 1980, recently extinct) was originally considered a ratite, then a megapode, then a stem chicken (Gallus), not quite a meter in length. Here it nests at the base of the hook-beaked predatory birds between Sagittarius and Cariama. The premaxilla forms a crest. The narrow rostrum is mobile relative to the wide cranium. We looked at Sylviornis earlier here.

Figure 1. Sylviornis is not a giant chicken. It's a basal predatory bird.

Figure 1. Sylviornis figure with original pedal phalangeal setup.

On a similar note…
I found this skeleton of Phoenicopterus, the flamingo (Fig. 3), with its toes switched on this unknown museum mount. The preparators should have mounted digit 2 medially and digit 4 laterally.

Figure 2. Flamingo skeleton with toes switched. Pedal 2 should be medial. Pedal 4 should be lateral.

Figure 2. Beautiful flamingo skeleton with toes switched. Pedal 2 should be medial. Pedal 4 should be lateral. Science is at its best when it is both appreciative and critical.

References
Poplin F 1980. Sylviornis neocaledoniae n. g., n. sp. (Aves), ratite éteint de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, Série D (in French). 290: 691–694.
Worthy TH et al. 2016. Osteology Supports a Stem-Galliform Affinity for the Giant Extinct Flightless Bird Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Sylviornithidae, Galloanseres). PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150871

wiki/Sylviornis

An OpenLetter to the OpenWings Project

According to their website:
“The goal of the OpenWings Project (http://blog.openwings.org) is to understand the evolutionary history of and evolutionary relationships among birds.”

“One of our goals in this project is to collect genomic data from DNA samples that have an associated voucher specimen in a research collection.”

Figure 2. Newell's shearwater (Puffinus newelli) in vivo.

Figure 1 Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus newelli) in vivo. We’ll examine the skeleton of this bird in an upcoming blogpost. 

“The fundamental and missing piece of this otherwise powerful comparative biology toolkit is an accurate and complete avian phylogeny. The overarching goal of the OpenWings Project is to fill this gap by producing: a complete phylogeny for all 10,560 bird species that will provide a unifying framework for understanding the origins and maintenance of avian diversity… as well as serving as a case study of the benefits and challenges of sampling all species in a major clade.”

Suggestion #1:
Start with a dozen diverse birds. IF the genotypes and phenotypes produce identical tree topologies, double that number and test two dozen birds. IF those produce identical tree topologies, test four dozen birds. Etc. Etc. You’ll get to 10,560 at that rate in ten steps with confidence that your results have been validated at every step.

If at any point the genotypes and phenotypes don’t produce identical tree topologies, review your paradigms and hypothesis. There is something wrong if they don’t match. In my testing, birds genes do not recover the same tree topologies as bird traits. Don’t waste your time and money testing 10,560 bird genes only to find they don’t deliver the same tree topology as bird traits.

Suggestion #2:
Since no large scale genomic and phenomic studies of birds have ever matched, just study phenotypes. Then you can include fossils and you won’t have to exclude taxa critical to understanding the phylogeny of birds. Click here for a starter list of taxa.

I would have contacted the OpenWings Project directly,
but (at present) they don’t provide access except through apps (like Twitter) I don’t have or want.

We looked at another DNA analysis of birds
by Prum et al. 2015 here and here and found it matched dissimilar taxa while separating similar taxa. So beware of DNA. It can only be validated with trait analysis and too often it produces odd results needing odd explanations.

References
https://www.markmybird.org
http://blog.openwings.org/2018/04/10/introducing-the-openwings-project/
https://www.ReptileEvolution.com/reptile-tree.htm

More evidence for a narrow chord wing membrane in pterosaurs

Unidentified by a museum number
this beautifully complete and articulated Solnhofen (Late Jurassic) Rhamphorhynchus specimen (Figs. 1, 2) preserve outlines of soft tissue, including a narrow-chord wing membrane (supporting Zittel 1882; Schaller 1985; Peters 2002; contra Unwin and Bakhurina 1994; Elgin, Hone and Frey 2011).

Figure 1. Rhamphorhynchus specimen preserving soft tissue, including a narrow-chord wing membrane. For details see figure 2.

Figure 1. Rhamphorhynchus specimen preserving soft tissue, including a narrow-chord wing membrane. For details see figure 2.

A closer view reveals a wing-tip ungual
(Fig. 2) better presented when Photoshop increases the contrast in the photo. Note: the other wingtip is more buried. This one less so. You’re still seeing the matrix over the wingtip ungual. The preparators did not excavate the entire wingtip from either wing.

Also worthy of note:
the propatagium extends to the deltopectoral crest, not to the neck. Pedal digit 5 is not connected to the uropatagia or any other membrane. And there is no single deep chord uropatagium extending between the legs. The toes are also webbed in other specimens. Here those webs are covered by the brachiopatagium.

Figure 2. Closer view of the specimen in figure 1 with overlays showing the various membranes and wingtip ungual.

Figure 2. Closer view of the specimen in figure 1 with overlays showing the various membranes and wingtip ungual, here a little bit buried along with the tip of m4.4, probably expanding the apparent size of the wing tip, just as burying an arrowhead necessitates using more mud to cover the edges and smooth out the edges.

As documented
earlier, the deep chord wing membrane is never found in pterosaurs. Both Unwin and Bakhurina 1994 and Elgin, Hone and Frey 2011 used cartoonish outlines to fudge their data. And when Elgin, Hone and Frey 2011 could not fudge their data (e.g. the Zittel wing), their desperation to avoid confirming Peters 2002 forced them to claim ‘membrane shrinkage‘ when there was none. I’m not sugar-coating this. This is what some paleontologists do in the present age. Be ready for it when you enter this field.

Click to animate. This is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus, which preserves twin uropatagia behind the knees.

Click to animate. This is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus, which preserves twin uropatagia behind the knees.

Is this a case of confirmation bias?
Yes. But I have yet to see any examples that confirm any other interpretation. Please send them if you have them.

References
Elgin RA, Hone DWE and Frey E 2011. The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (1), 2011: 99-111. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0145
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.
Peters D 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29:1327-1330.
Prondvai E and Hone DWE 2009. New models for the wing extension in pterosaurs. Historical Biology DOI: 10.1080/08912960902859334
Schaller D 1985. Wing Evolution. In: Hecht, M., Ostrom, J.H., Viohl, G. and Wellnhofer, P., eds, The Beginning of Birds. Proceedings of the International Archaeopteryx Conference, Eichstätt 1984, (Freundes Jura Museum, Eichstätt),pp. 333–348.
Unwin DM and Bakhurina NN 1994. Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature 371: 62-64.
Zittel KA 1882. Über Flugsaurier aus dem lithographischen Schiefer Bayerns. Palaeontographica 29: 7-80.

http://reptileevolution.com/pterosaur-wings.htm
http://reptileevolution.com/pterosaur-wings2.htm
http://reptileevolution.com/rhamphorhynchus-wings.htm

 

The tooth-billed pigeon Didunculus: reopening the trait/molecule argument

The rare tooth-billed pigeon
or manumea, (Didunculus strigirostris, Figs. 1, 2) is considered by Wikipedia “a large pigeon found only in Samoa. It has a large, curved, and hooked bright red bill with tooth-like projections on the lower mandible. The genus name means ‘little dodo.'” The parrot-like beak arose by convergence with parrots.

Figure 1. Skull of Didunculus compared to tracing of photo and adjusted to match.

Figure 1. Skull of Didunculus compared to tracing of photo and adjusted to match.

Shapiro et al. 2002
used DNA to nest the solitaire (Pezophaps) with the dodo (Raphus) with outgroups including the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas), the crowned pigeon (Goura) and the tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus (Figs 1, 2) in order of increasing distance.

Figure 2. Figures of the Didunculus skeleton.

Figure 2. Figures of the Didunculus skeleton. This taxon is transitional between ocean-going skuas and island-dwelling adzebills, and something similar was basal to dodos and solitaires.

By contrast
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1191 taxa) found Didunculus to be basal to the solitaire (Pezophaps), the dodo (Raphus) but more closely to another large flightless island bird, the adzebill (Aptornis). Pigeons, like Columba and Caloenas, nested is another clade, one that also includes the black vulture (Coragyps) and its new sister, Goura, the crested pigeon. So, once again, we have a DNA/trait mismatch. Close, but no cigar.

Descendants of ocean-going skuas
(genus: Catharacta) could have populated the remote and widespread islands (Fig. 4) on which many of the taxa in figure 3 can be found. I have not yet found a skua or another taxon closer to the pigeons and New World vultures, so, for now, Catharacta will have to suffice as a model. Suggestions are welcome.

Figure 4. Skuas fly from Antarctica to Alaska and probably populated the widespread remote islands on which many of the large flightless birds listed here are known, evolving in isolation.

Figure 4. Skuas fly from Antarctica to Alaska and probably populated the widespread remote islands on which many of the large flightless birds listed here are known, evolving in isolation.

The skua, Catharacta
(Fig. 5) also joins the LRT.

Figure 5. The great skua, Catharacta, is close to the ancestry of dodos, pigeons, Old World Vultures, petrels, auks and puffins.

Figure 5. The great skua, Catharacta, is close to the ancestry of dodos, pigeons, Old World Vultures, petrels, auks and puffins based on its traits.

References
Shapiro B et al. (7 co-authors) 2002. Flight of the Dodo. Science Brevia 295:1683.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tooth-billed_pigeon

European evolution

The attached video from YouTube
shows the changing boundaries and populations of various clades of Europeans and their invading neighbors evolving over a brief amount of time: only 2417 years. You’ll witness growth, death, aggression, expansion, division, union, stasis, invasion, decay and exploration.

In evolutionary terms, Europe is a petrie dish
and we who have ancestors that lived there with rising and falling fortunes. And there is no reason to suggest that things will never change in the future. Similar videos have appeared for Asia, the world, various words, etc. etc.

Things happen.
Weather changes. Volcanoes spew. Diseases decimate. People interbreed and emigrate. Languages change. So does DNA. Sometimes education is elevated. Sometimes religion is elevated. Sometimes slaves are imported. Sometimes slaves are freed. Sometimes autocrats run amok. Sometimes cooler heads prevail.

Somehow everyone living today
had an unbroken chain of ancestors going back to tetrapods in the Devonians, chordates in the Cambrian and worms in the Ediacaran and beyond. All of this is evolution at its finest, both short term (Fig. 1) and long.

Variation within Confuciusornis

A new paper
by Elzanowski, Peters (no relation) & Mayr 2018 studies the temporal region of Confuciusornis (Early Cretaceous, 125 mya) and other birds. The team writes: “their skull presents a puzzle because it is said to have retained the diapsid temporal region of their avian ancestors (Peters and Ji, 1998; Hou et al., 1999), which is discordant with their phylogenetic position and other cranial features that are much more derived relative to Archaeopteryx.”

Unfortunately
Elzanowski et al. make the traditional mistake of assuming all Solnhofen birds are congeneric (= all Archaeopteryx). They are not. Wellnhoferia (formerly Archaeopteryx) grandis (BSP 1999, Fig. 4) is a basal confuciusornithid in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1191 taxa). Therefore, the traits found in Confuciusornis cannot be “much more derived relative to Archaeopteryx”. The team also does not realize the pygostyle evolved several times by convergence (in the LRT).

Based on taxon exclusion
Elzanowski et al. make several phylogenetic assumptions that are not validated in the LRT. They write, “Confuciusornis sanctus has been heralded as a bird with an ancestrally diapsid skull, although this does not match its phylogenetic position as determined by other skeletal features.” They also seem to have missed several traits in their tracing of the Berlin specimen (Fig. 1).

Figure 1A. Berlin Confuciusornis skull as traced by Elzanowski et al. and colorized here. Note the postorbital is broken during crushing. Hyoids are misidentified. Lacrimal and teeth are overlooked. The vomer and palatine are peeking out from the anterior maxilla. The plesiomorphic diapsid temporal region is present here (contra Elzanowski et al. 2018).

Figure 1A. Berlin Confuciusornis skull as traced by Elzanowski et al. and colorized here. Note the postorbital is broken during crushing. Hyoids are misidentified. Lacrimal and teeth are overlooked. The vomer and palatine are peeking out from the anterior maxilla. The plesiomorphic diapsid temporal region is present here (contra Elzanowski et al. 2018).

Figure 1B. Confuciusornis Berlin specimen teeth.

Figure 1B. Confuciusornis Berlin specimen teeth.

The Berlin MBAv1168 specimen
is distinct from the GMV specimen in several ways (Fig. 2). The MBAv1168 specimen is twice as tall, has a longer neck, shorter tail, smaller, wider sacrum, larger unguals and a longer pedal digit 4 among other traits. The Berlin specimen has tiny teeth (overlooked by Elzanowski et al in Fig. 1), like all related taxa except the GMV specimen. In the LRT the MBAv1168  specimen nests with Changchengornis (Fig. 4), not Confuciusornis (due to the presence of teeth and other traits).

Figure 2. The GMV and MBAv specimens to scale. See text for details.

Figure 2. The GMV and MBAv specimens to scale. See text for details and differences.

The Berlin specimen is preserved with many feathers,
including the two elongate tail feathers that mark this as a male (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. The Berlin specimen assigned to Confuciusornis sanctus is preserved with a full set of feathers, including two long tail feathers. Surprisingly, the furcula came to rest on top of the neck.

Figure 3. The Berlin specimen assigned to Confuciusornis sanctus is preserved with a full set of feathers, including two long tail feathers. Surprisingly, the furcula came to rest on top of the neck.

Other confuciusornthids
tested here include the taxa in figure 4.

Figure 4. Confuciusornithiformes to scale. Note the lack of a pygostyle in the majority of taxa.

Figure 4. Confuciusornithiformes to scale. Note the lack of a pygostyle in the majority of taxa.

Hundreds of Confuciusornis specimens are known.
Only two have been tested in the LRT. Elzanowski et al. had first hand access to the Berlin specimen and others. I relied on published photographs and color tracings of the elements and creating reconstructions to replace displaced bones to their in vivo positions.

References
Elzanowski A, Peters DS & Mayr G 2018. Cranial morphology of the Early Cretaceous bird Confuciusornis. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Article: e1439832. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2018.1439832.

wiki/Confuciusornis

The YouTube videos of Ben G Thomas

Just wanted to alert readers
to a series of paleontological YouTube videos by Ben G Thomas. All are well done.

Of course,
several of the videos are sprinkled with outdated traditional thinking and need a bit of updating based on results from the large reptile tree. But overall most are so well presented that their benefit outweighs any objection.

There must be over a dozen paleo videos
in the Ben G Thomas channel. These represent just a few samples.

References
https://www.facebook.com/bengthomas42/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDSzwZqgtJEnUzacq3ddoOQ

The spectacular skull of Tupandactylus in situ

Short one today. All visual. 

Figure 1. Plate and counter plate of Tupandactylus imperator.

Figure 1. Plate and counter plate of Tupandactylus imperator with reconstruction based on DGS tracing.

This is the skull
and only known remains of Tupandactylus (formerly Tapejara) imperator. Like Tapejara, the premaxillarly crest was quite large. Unlike Tapejara, but like Sinopterus dongi, the antorbital fenestra was 2x longer than tall.

The Tapejaridae

Figure 2. Click to enlarge and see the unknown tapejarid. This is the Tapejaridae, including Sinopterus, Huaxiapterus, Tapejara, Tupandactylus, Tupuxuara and Thalassodromeus

Megapodius: basal to all living birds (except ratites)

Figure 1. Megapodius is the extant bird nesting at the base of all neognathae (all living birds except ratites).

Figure 1. Megapodius is the extant bird nesting at the base of all neognathae (all living birds except ratites). And it looks like a basal bird, not too this… not too that.

So far, with the present list of tested taxa,
this living bird (Fig. 1) is the seemingly unchanged descendant of all living birds, other than the ratites and kiwis, according to the large reptile tree (LRT, 1089 taxa). Megapodius demonstrates that early neognaths, like their sister paleognaths, were long-legged terrestrial omnivores, able to fly, but not very well, despite the large and subdivided breastbone (keeled sternum) and long locked-down coracoids.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Figure 2. subset of the LRT focusing on birds and their ancestors

Megapodius freycinet (Gaimard 1823) is the extant dusky scrubfowl, one of the most primitive of living neognath birds. This one nests at the base of the hook-beak predatory birds, the most basal extant neognaths.

References
Gaimard JP 1823. Mémoire sur un nouveau genre de Gallinacés, establi sous le nom de Mégapode. Bulletin General et Universel des Annonces et de Nouvelles Scientifiques 2: 450-451.

https://www.gbif.org/species/2482114