SVP abstracts 9: Pushing a tiny wading pterosaur into the deep end

Habib, Pittman and Kaye 2020
add laser fluorescence to a tiny pterosaur, the still unnamed Berlin specimen, MB.R.3531 (Figs. 1a, b) we first looked at following Flugsaurier 2018.

From the Habib et al. abstract:
“Water launch capacity has been previously suggested for some marine pterosaurs based on osteological grounds, but robust estimates of specimen-specific performance are difficult without robust estimates of wing area and potential hindfoot webbing. Here, we provide the first estimates of pterosaur water launch performance that take into account preserved soft tissue anatomy.”

FIgure 1. Reconstruction of MB.R.3531, nesting with Eoazhdarcho, Eopteranodon and Aurorazhdarcho.

FIgure 1a. Reconstruction of MB.R.3531, nesting with Eoazhdarcho, Eopteranodon and Aurorazhdarcho. Shown about actual size, so this pterosaur could have stood upright like this in a 10cm per side box. See figure 1b.

Figure 1. Aurorazhdarcho primordial and the smaller Aurorazhdarcho micronyx to scale.

Figure 1b. Aurorazhdarcho primordial and the smaller Aurorazhdarcho micronyx (not a juvenile) to scale. The smaller one had better stay out of deeper waters.

Continuing from the Habib et al. abstract:
“The aurorazhdarchid pterosaur specimen MB.R.3531 from the Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Limestone was imaged using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence, revealing significant soft tissue preservation. These soft tissues are among the best-preserved of any known Jurassic pterosaur, including for the first time, a complete actinofibrillar complex, an undistorted actinopatagium with the retrophalangeal connective tissue wedge and entire trailing edge, and webbed feet.”

Why the showmanship (= hyperbole, = falsehood)? Most of these traits have been known for several pterosaurs and from less jumbled specimens, including the  Zittel wing specimen of Rhamphorhynchus (Fig. 2), the dark-wing specimen of Rhamphorhynchus and the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus (Fig. 3).

The Zittel wing

Figure 2. The Zittel wing from a species of Rhamphorhynchus. This is real. There is no way this wing membrane is going to stretch to the ankles. See figure 3 for comparison and phylogenetic bracketing. This is how pterosaur wings were able to be folded away when not in use. 

Figure 2. Here is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus in situ and with matrix removed. Now compare this figure with figure 3, which shows the wings and uropatagia unfolding. There is no way to turn this into a deep chord wing membrane. And it decouples the forelimbs from the hind limbs.

Figure 3. Here is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus in situ and with matrix removed. Now compare this figure with figure 3, which shows the wings and uropatagia unfolding. There is no way to turn this into a deep chord wing membrane. And it decouples the forelimbs from the hind limbs. This is how pterosaur wings were able to be folded away when not in use. 

Continuing from the Habib et al. abstract:
“These physically validated soft tissues formed the basis for analyzing water launch capability in MB.R.3531. We modeled the water launch as quadrupedal and broadly similar to modern “puddle jumping” anseriform birds that use a combination of their webbed feet and partially folded wings to push against the water surface during takeoff.”

More myth-making. Like the morphologically similar by convergence, Pterodactylus (based on the Vienna specimen; Figs. 3, 4), MB.R.3531 was a quadrupedal wader (note the tiny fore claws), but able to stand bipedally prior to take-off. Waders don’t get themselves into water too deep to touch the substrate. Ask any sandpiper, plover or stilt.

So this is much ado about nothing, based on putting the discredited Habib method of pushup take-off back on the table.

FIgure 6. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (n21) model. Full scale.

Figure 4. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (n21) model. Full scale. This is how pterosaur wings were able to be folded away when not in use. 

More from the Habib et al. abstract:
“Under this model, both hind limb and forelimb contact areas are critical. Under conservative assumptions regarding power and range of motion, we predict that MB.R.3531 was capable of rapid takeoff from the water surface.

Yes, of course, but from a bipedal start (Fig. 5). And from shallow ponds, no deeper than knee deep.

FIgure 8. Dimorphodon take off (with the new small tail).

FIgure 5. Dimorphodon take off (with the new small tail).

From the Habib et al. abstract:
“Our model predicts that water launch performance in pterosaurs was particularly sensitive to three factors: available propulsive contact area, forelimb extension range, and extension power about the shoulder. MB.R.3531 possessed both osteological and soft tissue features that significantly enhanced these performance characteristics (including, but not limited to, expanded internal rotator/extensor attachments on the proximal humerus, extended humeral length, chordwise distal actinofibril orientation, and webbed pes).”

If you’ll compare one with another, MB.R.3531 (Fig. 1) is convergent in most respects to a typical Solnhofen Pterodactylus (Fig. 4), down to the webbed feet. There was nothing out of the ordinary about MB.R.3531.

“These features would have limited impact on flight performance. We therefore interpret them as likely water takeoff specializations.

Whoa, partner! These traits are typical of most beach combing pterosaurs, so far as they can be determined in fossils and phylogenetic bracketing, even with unrelated clade convergence.

“The osteological specializations in MB.R.3531 are subtle, which may be related to its small size.”

I would agree that the osteological specializations are so subtle they do not exist.

“Larger marine pterosaurs appear to exaggerate these characteristics, which matches expectations from scaling.

This is false. Ornithocheirids have notoriously tiny feet, unsuitable for anything more than standing still and walking slowly. More to come.

“We show that soft tissue data can be used to help validate the dynamic feasibility of water launch in pterosaurs, suggesting it was a regular part of foraging behavior in some taxa.”

This is false. Dr. Habib, just let the pterosaur stand upright, as its ancestors did and as it was designed to do (fused sacrals and fused dorsal vertebrae dorsally, sternum + gastralia + prepubes support ventrally). Quadrupedal pterosaur tracks are more prevalent because they were made by a few clades of small-fingered beach combing pterosaurs, principally pterodactylids, ctenochasmatids and azhdarchids (Peters 2011).

Pelican take-off sequence from water.

Figure 6. Pelican take-off sequence from water using kicking webbed feet and elevated, then flapping wings simultaneously. Click to enlarge.

From an earlier 2018 assessment of MB.R.3531:
Habib and Pittman 2018 bring us a rarely studied Berlin pterosaur, MB.R.3531 (Fig. 1) originally named Pterodactylus micronyx, then Aurorazhdarcho micronyx. This specimen nests with other wading pterosaurs, AurorazhdarchoEopteranodon and Eoazhdarcho forming  a clade overlooked by other workers, at the transition between germanodactylids and pteranodontids, not related to azhdarchids (Peters 2007).

For those wondering why I don’t publish more.
Why put in the effort if competing studies are ignored? The online way is faster, briefer and can be animated with no color charges. Furthermore, the vetting process prior to publication of hypotheses like the dangerous pushup launch and the bat-wing pterosaur membrane myth, is failing time and again. Editors, professors and researchers who should be earning their paycheck from rigorously testing new hypotheses are instead granting their friends free passes in an effort to keep the status quo in lectures and textbooks.


References
Habib M and Pittman M 2018. An “old” specimen of Aurorazhdarcho micronyx with exceptional preservation and implications for the mechanical function of webbed
feet in pterosaurs. Flugsaurier 2018: The 6th International Symposium on Pterosaurs. Los Angeles, USA. Abstracts: 41–43.
Habib MB, Pittman M and Kaye T 2020. Pterosaur soft tissues revealed by laser-stimulated fluorescence enable in-depth analysis of water launch performance. SVP abstracts 2020.
Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods.  Ichnos 7:11-41.
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 2010. In defence of parallel interphalangeal lines.
Historical Biology iFirst article, 2010, 1–6 DOI: 10.1080/08912961003663500
Peters D 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification
Ichnos 18(2):114-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10420940.2011.573605

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/pteranodon-quad-hopping-water-takeoff-according-to-the-amnh/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/flugsaurier-2018-web-footed-little-pterosaur-mb-r-3531/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/water-takeoff-in-a-pelican-part-2-with-reference-to-pterosaur-water-takeoffs/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/amnh-animated-pterosaur-takeoffs/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/pterosaur-take-off-from-water/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/pterosaurs-were-unlikely-floaters-hone-and-henderson-2013/

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/pterosaur-launch-talk-from-2012-on-youtube/

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