Largest ‘flying reptile’ from the Crato formation? Maybe not.

Cheng et al. 2018
report on a partial wing finger (MPSC R 1221, Fig. 1) that they say represents, “The largest flying reptile from the Crato Formation, Lower Cretaceous, Brazil.”

But is it? 

Figure 1. The as yet undescribed SMNS PAL 1136 specimen is much larger than comparable bones in the new specimen, MPSC R 1221.

Figure 1. The as yet undescribed SMNS PAL 1136 specimen is much larger than comparable bones in the new specimen, MPSC R 1221. If the scale bars are correct, the SMNS specimen is much larger.

if the scale bars are correct. The larger, as yet undescribed, and very impressive SMNS PAL 1136 specimen (Fig. 1) is not mentioned in the text. I do not know if the SMNS specimen is from the Crato or Roualdo formation (I have not gone back to look up that datum). In any case, the authors overlooked this specimen, because it is not mentioned in the text or charts that list a few dozen other large pterosaurs. It should have been included. Of course, then the headline would have read, “…second largest…” and no one wants that.

So was this oversight intentional?
We’ll never know. The SMNS specimen has been in the literature for 24 years (Frey and Martill 1994).

Addendum several days later
The Crato Formation was not erected until 13 years after the 1994 paper by Martill, Bechly and Loveridge. Therefore all layers were considered Santana Formation in 1994. So the SMNS specimen from the Santana formation might have come from the upper or lower layers. It should have been included in the 2018 survey.

The authors conclude
“Based on the fusion of the extensor tendon process and the first wing phalanx and bone histology, MPSC R 1221 presents a subadult individual of a late ontogeny stage (OS5) at time of death, whichmeans that the final maximized wingspan might have been larger. This is corroborated by the osteohistological sections since this individual did not present an external fundamental system.” Look how eager the authors are to hang on to that superlative, ‘largest’, even though we know of at least one that is so much larger.

The authors do not realize
or continue to deny data, that pterosaurs do not follow archosaur fusion patterns during ontogeny—because pterosaurs are not archosaurs, and their fusion patterns follow phylogenetic patterns.

I never heard the term,
“external fundamental system” before. So, I looked it up: “A closely spaced series of lines of arrested growth that is called the External Fundamental System (EFS) indicates that adult size has been reached.” Now we all know!

I hope this blog post
will one day turn out dozens of young paleontologists who will read every paper they see with a seasoned and skeptical eye. If so, a few of you may someday become editors of academic journals or manuscript referees. When that happens, don’t let mistakes like this slip out. Having a website, like, that is full of data and illustrations, makes it easy to fact-check superlative claims, like this one, with just a few clicks.

On that note:
here (Fig. 2) is a published illustration of a pterosaur wrist from Duque and Barret 2018 with labels that were a little mixed up with regard for the ulna and radius. The referees should have caught this.

Figure 1. From figure 9 from Duque and Barreto 2018 with corrections noted and digit 5 colorized

Figure 2. From figure from Duque and Barreto 2018 with corrections noted and digit 5 colorized. This mistake should have been caught by the authors and referees, not me.

Cheng X, Bantim RAM, Sayão JM, Kellner AWA, Wang X and Saraiva AAF 2018. The largest flying reptile from the Crato Formation, Lower Cretaceous, Brazil. Historical Biology.
Duque RRC and Barret AMF 2018. New exceptionally well-preserved Pterosauria from the lower Cretaceous Araripe Basin, Northeast Brazil. Cretaceous Research 10.1016/j.cretres.2018.05.004
Frey E and Martill DM 1994. A new Pterosaur from the Crato Formation (Lower Cretaceous, Aptian) of Brazil. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 194: 379–412.

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