Bergamodactylus (basal pterosaur) back ‘under the microscope’

This all started with Kellner 2015
who proposed 6 states of pterosaur ontogeny based on skeletal fusion of discrete elements. This hypothesis was tested in phylogenetic analysis and shown to be invalid. Pterosaurs don’t fuse bones during ontogeny. Fusion appears in phylogenic patterns. Oblivious to this fact, Dalla Vecchia 2018 dismissed Kellner’s hypothesis by writing, “Kellner’s six ontogenetic stages are an oversimplification mixing ontogenetic features of different taxa that probably had distinct growth patterns. Finding commonality across all pterosaurs is impossible, because there is much variation in pterosaur ontogeny and the available sample is highly restricted.” 

Neither Kellner nor Dalla Vecchia recognize
the lepidosaurian affinities of pterosaurs, and do not realize that as lepidosaurs pterosaurs mature differently than archosaurs. Some lepidosaurs continue growing after fusing elements (Maisano 2002). Others never fuse elements. Fusion of elements in pterosaurs is phylogenetic, not ontogenetic. Pterosaurs mature isometrically, not allometrically as proven by every full-term embryo and every known juvenile among a wide variety of pterosaur specimens. Plus, all of the small purported Solnhofen juveniles phylogenetically nest as key transitional taxa linking larger long-tail primitive pterosaurs to larger short-tail derived pterosaurs (Peters 2007). That’s how those clades survived the extinction events that doomed their fellow, larger, longer-tailed kin.

Kellner 2015 also
distinguished a small pterosaur MPUM 6009 from the holotype of Eudimorphodon and from Carniadactylus (MFSN 1797, Dalla Vecchia 2009; Fig. 1) and gave MPUM 6009 the name Bergamodactylus (Fig. 1) after Peters 2007 had done the same (without renaming MPUM 6009), in phylogenetic analysis. Neither Kellner nor Dalla Vecchia performed a phylogenetic analysis, but preferred to describe similar bones. That rarely works out well.

Figure 1. Bergamodactylus compared to Carniadactylus. These two nest apart from one another in the LRT.

Figure 1. Bergamodactylus (MPUM 6009) compared to Carniadactylus (MFSN 1797). These two nest apart from one another in the LRT. Contra Dalla Vecchia 2018, these two share relatively few traits in common. The feet, cervicals, sternal complex coracoids and legs are different.

Dalla Vecchia 2018 concludes, 
“The anatomical differences between MPUM 6009 and MFSN 1797 are too small to support the erection a new genus for MPUM 6009.” That is incorrect (Fig. 1). Several taxa nest between these two taxa in the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 232 taxa). Their feet alone (Fig. 1) were shown to be very different in Peters (2011).

Figure 1. Bergamodactylus compared to Cosesaurus. Hypothetical hatchling also shown.

Figure 2. Bergamodactylus compared to Cosesaurus. Hypothetical hatchling also shown.

From the Dalla Vecchia 2018 abstract
“Six stages (OS1-6) were identified by Kellner (2015) to establish the ontogeny of a given pterosaur fossil. These were used to support the erection of several new Triassic taxa including Bergamodactylus wildi, which is based on a single specimen (MPUM 6009) from the Norian of Lombardy, Italy. However, those ontogenetic stages are not valid because different pterosaur taxa had different tempos of skeletal development. Purported diagnostic characters of Bergamodactylus wildi are not autapomorphic or were incorrectly identified. Although minor differences do exist between MPUM 6009 and the holotype of Carniadactylus rosenfeldi, these do not warrant generic differentiation. Thus, MPUM 6009 is here retained within the taxon Carniadactylus rosenfeldi as proposed by Dalla Vecchia (2009a).” \

Dalla Vecchia is basing his opinion on comparing a few cherry-picked traits, possibly convergent, rather than running both taxa and a long list of other pterosaurs through phylogenetic analysis, to see where unbiased software nests both taxa among the others.

Plus, as mentioned above, both authors are working from an antiquated set or rules that no longer apply now that pterosaurs have been tested and validated as lepidosaurs.

Figure 2. Bergamodactylus skull colorized with DGS and reconstructed.

Figure 3. Bergamodactylus skull colorized with DGS and reconstructed. Palatal and occipital bones shown here were missed by Dalla Vecchia 2018 and prior workers who did not use DGS.

Phylogenetic analysis
employing a large gamut of taxa, like the large reptile tree (LRT, 1215 taxa), invalidates traditional arguments that pterosaurs arose without obvious precedent among the archosauriforms, which most pterosaur workers, including both Kellner and Dalla Vecchia, still cling to, despite no evidence of support. Pterosaurs arose from fenestrasaur tritosaur lepidosaurs (Fig. 7).

Figure 4. The skull of Bergamodactylus traced by Kellner 2015, Dalla Vecchia 2018 and by me using DGS.

Figure 4. The skull of Bergamodactylus traced by Kellner 2015, Dalla Vecchia 2018 and by me using DGS. See figure 2 for a reconstruction of the DGS tracing.  Prior authors missed all the palatal and occipital bones along with several others.

The metacarpus of Bergamodactylus
has a few disarticulated elements. When replaced to their in vivo positions the axial rotation of metacarpal 4 (convergent with the axial rotation of pedal digit 1 in birds) enables the wing finger to fold in the plane of the hand, not against the palmar surface. Manual digit 5, a vestige, goes along for the ride, rotating the dorsal surface of the hand (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Metacarpus of Bergamodactylus (MPUM 6009) in situ and reconstructed.

Figure 5. Metacarpus of Bergamodactylus (MPUM 6009) in situ and reconstructed. Apparently the pteroid splintered apart, overlooked by those with direct access to the specimen. The distal carpals are not co-ossified, as they are in later pterosaurs. The laterally longer fingers, up to digit 4, is a tritosaur trait. Note ungual 1 lies on top of the posterior face of metacarpal 4. That was overlooked by those who had direct access to the specimen, which supports the utility of DGS.


Bergamodactylus, as the most basal pterosaur,
is itself a transitional taxon bridging non-volant fenestrasaurs with all other pterosaurs. And the wing (Fig. 6) was about the last thing to evolve.

Figure 6. Click to enlarge. The origin of the pterosaur wing and the migration of the pteroid and preaxial carpal. A. Sphenodon. B. Huehuecuetzpalli. C. Cosesaurus. D. Sharovipteryx. E. Longisquama. F-H. The Milan specimen MPUM 6009, a basal pterosaur.

Bergamodactylus to scale
with Cosesaurus and Longisquama (Fig. 7), demonstrate the variety within the Fenestrasauria. Pterosaurs arose more or less directly from a sister to Cosesaurus (based on overall proportions), but note that both Sharovipteryx and Longisquama have more pterosaurian traits than Cosesaurus does. This pattern is convergent with that of birds, of which several clades of Solnhofen bird descendants arose of similar yet distinct structure.

Figure 8. Taxa at the genesis of pterosaurs: Cosesaurus, Longisquama and Bergamodactylus.

Figure 7. Taxa at the genesis of pterosaurs: Cosesaurus, Longisquama and Bergamodactylus.

See rollover images
of Bergamodactylus in situ here. You’ll see how DGS is able to pull out post-cranial details overlooked by others in the chaos and confusion of layers of bones and impressions in MPUM 6009. Cranial details are best seen in figure 3 above, which is based on higher resolution images.

Dalla Vecchia FM 2009. Anatomy and systematics of the pterosaur Carniadactylus gen. n. rosenfeldi (Dalla Vecchia, 1995). Riv. It. Paleontol. Strat., 115: 159-186.
Dalla Vecchia FM 2018. Comments on Triassic pterosaurs with a commentary on the “ontogenetic stages” of Kellner (2015) and the validity of Bergamodactylus wildi.  Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 124(2): 317-341. DOI:
Kellner AWA. 2015. Comments on Triassic pterosaurs with discussion about ontogeny and description of new taxa. Anais Acad. Brasil. Ciênc., 87(2): 669-689.
Maisano JA 2002. Terminal fusions of skeletal elements as indicators of maturity in squamates. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 22:268-275.
Peters D. 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141.

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