Pterodaustro embryo goes under DGS

Codorniú et al. 2017.
bring us detailed images of a wonderful Pterodaustro embryo (MIC-V246, Early Cretaceous; Chiappe et al. 2004) we’ve seen before. Here (Figs. 1–3) we’ll take a closer look at the fossil itself using DGS to untangle it. This is the same embryo first described by Chiappe et al. 13 years ago. Why did it take so long to bring out these details? There’s nothing really new here, no revision to their original description.

Figure 1. Pterodaustro embryo from Codorniú et al. with DGS color overlays to graphically segregate bones from one another.

Figure 1. Pterodaustro embryo from Codorniú et al. with DGS color overlays to graphically segregate bones from one another. Compare original reconstruction here to that in Figure 3.  Note the broken tibiae. Look how much better color over a photo works than pen and ink.

Turn out
the embryo is far less disarticulated than originally considered. Several bones are newly identified here (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Original interpretations (2 frames black/white) vs. new interpretations (color).

Figure 2. Original interpretations (2 frames black/white) vs. new interpretations (color).

What Codorniú et al identified as

  1. ascending process of the premaxilla (pmx) is here a right metacarpal 4 (mc4)
  2. right wing phalanx 4 (wp4) is here a maxilla (mx) and premaxilla (pmx)
  3. left metacarpal 4 (mc4) is here a proximal radius (ra)
  4. left coracoid (co) is here a left metacarpal 4 (mc4)
  5. dorsal vertebrae (dv) and ribs at top is here identified as cervical vertebrae and left metacarpals 1–3).
  6. jugal (ju) and maxilla (mx) are here identified as mandible and palatal elements, but there’s also a short jugal in there below the sclerotic ring
  7. right metacarpal 4 (mc4) is here identified as a left scapula
  8. right wing phalanx 1 (wp1) is here identified as a left coracoid
  9. right wing phalanx 2 (wp2) is here identified as a dentary portion + left wp3 (4.3).
  10. gastralia (ga) are here identified as left dorsal ribs with tiny gastralia below
  11. caudal vertebrae (ca) here identified as possible sacral ribs

Parts missing from the Codorniú et al. tracing, but recovered using DGS include

  1. dozens of teeth
  2. prepubes
  3. pteroids
  4. carpals
  5. sternal complex
  6. finger phalanges including wing tip ungual (4.5)
  7. sclerotic rings
  8. cranial bones (parietals + occipitals)
  9. caudal vertebrae
  10. proximal femora
Figure 2. Same as in figure 1 with elements segregated.

Figure 3. Same as in figure 1 with elements segregated. Just a little bit of eggshell is preserved and it is very thin.

Digital Graphic Segregation (DGS)
is the perfect tool to interpret a fossil such as this. Embryos are encased in eggshell. That means every bone is retained in a small area, undisturbed by invaders or currents. Most embryos are going to be articulated, barring violent shaking, which could happen if the egg was tumbled and/or dropped. Some bones will just barely appear below others.

Try DGS yourself.
First color the bones that are easy to identify. Segregate the wings from other skeletal elements. Then color in all the remaining bones, including those that barely appear below other elements. Finally, lift your colors to another file and push them around to create a reconstruction. Check your work for errors and repeat.

Figure 3. Rough reconstruction using color tracings. Note the elongate jaws and small eye, documenting isometric growth in this pterosaur, as in all others where this can be seen.

Figure 4. Rough reconstruction using color tracings. Note the elongate jaws and small eye, documenting isometric growth in this pterosaur, as in all others where this can be seen. Note the relatively short tibia. This could be longer, but pars are hidden by the feet and other bones.

The thin egg shell
is similar to those in lepidosaurs because pterosaurs are lepidosaurs. As lepidosaurs mothers can carry their eggs until just before hatching, taking advantage of her warmth and her ability to avoid predators. Please ignore hypotheses that suggest pterosaurs buried their eggs. No fragile hatchling wants to dig out of a deep steaming pile of wet, rotting leaves filled with insects and centipedes. They’re not like husky little sea turtles. Baby pterosaurs want to dry out, open up their tiny wings and fly!

Pterodaustro adult with manual digit 3 repaired.

Figure 4. Pterodaustro adult with manual digit 3 repaired.

At one-eigth the size of a typical adult (which also vary in size)
embryo Pterodaustro was similar in proportions, but with shorter tibiae, smaller feet, more gracile jaws and other minor differences. With such proportions, there is nothing to prevent hatchling Pterodaustro from flying.

Figure 2. Pterodaustro embryos compared. Note the 2004 specimen is a little larger with more robust wing finger phalanges and a larger sternal complex.

Figure 2. Pterodaustro embryo compared to post-hatchling. Note the right specimen is a little larger with more robust wing finger phalanges and a larger sternal complex.

We looked at other pterosaur embryos
here, here, here, here, and here.

Bone fusion patterns in pterosaurs
Codorniú et al. discuss the lack of scapulacoracoid (s/c) bone fusion in the embryo and considered that an ontogenetic trait. A long time ago, bone fusion was phylogenetically mapped on the pterosaur cladogram. No current embryos have s/c bone fusion, but then neither do any of their adults or sisters. What we need is to find an embryo of a pterosaur genus with a fused s/c as an adult. We have not found one yet. As lepidosaurs, pterosaurs follow lepidosaur bone fusion patterns (Maisano 2002), which are phylogenetic, not ontogenetic. Fused bones keep growing. So do unfused bones into adulthood.

It would be great
if this embryo finally puts to rest the invalid hypothesis of allometric growth in pterosaurs promoted by Bennett and many Bennett followers who considered small, short rostrum, large-eyed Solnhofen pterosaurs the juveniles of larger, longer-snouted specimens. Zhejiangopterus and Pterodaustro growth series provide further strong evidence against the invalid allometric growth hypothesis. Pterosaur workers: GET OVER IT! IT’S WRONG!

References
Chinsamy A, Codorniú L and Chiappe LM 2008. Developmental growth patterns of the filter-feeder pterosaur, Pterodaustro guinazui. Biology Letters, 4: 282-285.
Chiappe LM, Codorniú L, Grellet-Tinner G and Rivarola D. 2004. Argentinian unhatched pterosaur fossil. Nature, 432: 571.
Codorniú L, Chiapped L and Rivarola D 2017. Neonate morphology and development in pterosaurs: evidence from a Ctenochasmatid embryo from the Early Cretaceous of Argentina. From: Hone DWE, Witton MP and Martill DM (eds) New Perspectives on Pterosaur Palaeobiology. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 455, https://doi.org/10.1144/SP455.17
Maisano JA 2002. Terminal fusions of skeletal elements as indicators of maturity in squamates. Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology 22: 268–275.

 

 

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Dr. David Unwin on pterosaur reproduction – YouTube

Dr. David Unwin’ talk on pterosaur reproduction 
was recorded at the XIV Annual Meeting of the European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists, Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands and are online as a YouTube video.
Dr. Unwin is an excellent and engaging speaker.
However, some of the issues Dr. Unwin raises have been solved at www.ReptileEvolution.com
The virtual lack of calcite in pterosaur eggs were compared to lepidosaurs by Dr. Unwin, because pterosaurs ARE lepidosaurs.  See: www.ReptileEvolution.com/reptile-tree.htm
Lepidosaurs carry their eggs internally much longer than archosaurs, some to the point of live birth or hatching within hours of egg laying. Given this, pterosaurs did not have to bury their eggs where hatchlings would risk damaging their fragile membranes while digging out. Rather mothers carried them until hatching. The Mrs. T external egg was prematurely expelled at death, thus the embryo was poorly ossified and small.
Dr. Unwin ignores the fact that hatchlings and juveniles had adult proportions as demonstrated by growth series in Zhejiangopterus, Pterodaustro and all others, like the JZMP embryo (with adult ornithocheirid proportions) and the IVPP embryo (with adult anurognathid proportions).
Dr. Unwin also holds to the disproved assumption that all Solnhofen sparrow- to hummingbird-sized pterosaurs were juveniles or hatchlings distinct from any adult in the strata. So they can’t be juveniles (see above). Rather these have been demonstrated to be phylogenetically miniaturized adults and transitional taxa linking larger long-tailed dorygnathid and scaphognathid ancestors to larger short-tailed pterodactyloid-grade descendants, as shown at: www.ReptileEvolution.com/MPUM6009-3.htm
Thus the BMNH 42736 specimen and Ningchengopterus are adults, not hatchlings. And the small Rhamphorhynchus specimens are also small adults.

Rhamphorhynchus n28: unidentified food mass? or overlooked egg in the abdomen?

Figure 1. Rhamphorhynchus intermedius (n28) reconstructed.

Figure 1. Rhamphorhynchus intermedius (n28) reconstructed.

Rhamphorhynchus intermedius (Koh 1937, n28 in the Wellnhofer 1975 catalog) is a well preserved basal specimen (derived from the C3 specimen of Campylognathoides) with a mass inside of its torso, only part of which has been identified as a Solhnhofen fish (Figs. 2,3).

Figure 2. Wellnhofer 1991 illustrates the abdominal mass as part of a fish and other unidentified elements.

Figure 2. Wellnhofer 1991 illustrates the abdominal mass as part of a fish and other unidentified elements.

The rest of the abdominal mass
is unidentified (Fig. 2). Wellnhofer 1991 considered it food. Considering its shape, size and placement, I wonder if the posterior mass is actually a nearly full term egg (Fig. 3). I don’t think it makes much sense to consider such an abdominal mass as “unidentified food” when no other known specimen has a similar mass of undigested food. That would mean the stomach could expand to fill the abdomen. Usually the only thing that crowds out other organs and air sacs is an egg or a number of eggs in other reptile taxa. Check out this kiwi X-ray for an extreme example.

Figure 3. Skeletal elements of Rhamphorhynchus intermedius (n28) along with an ingested fish and what appears to be a possible egg.

Figure 3. Skeletal elements of Rhamphorhynchus intermedius (n28) along with an ingested fish and what appears to be a possible egg. Note the overlapping sets of gastralia. It looks like the jaws of the fish are displaced here. Wellnhofer did not see the large eyeball identified here. Note the left scapula and coracoid are inverted. There sternal complex has a similar unexpectedly bumpy texture as the purported egg.

Rhamphorhynchus intermedius
is a medium-sized Rhamphorhynchus nesting at the very base of the clade between the larger Campylognathoides and the smaller Bellubrunnu. Thus it is a transitional taxon, step one in an extreme example of phylogenetic miniaturization. No one understood this nesting prior to the phylogenetic analysis documented at ReptileEvolution.com because no one included a long list of Rhamphorhynchus specimens in analysis prior to or since. I’d like to encourage other pterosaur workers to do so and test this hypothesis of relationships.

Texture
The “egg” has an odd texture, but then so does the sternal complex. Not sure why.

Previous examples?
Two smaller examples of “something else” in the abdomen of – or just aborted from the abdomen – other specimens of Rhamphorhynhcus can be seen here and here.

References
Koh TP 1937. Unterscuchungen über die Gattung Ramphorhynchus. – Neues Jahrbuch Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaeontologie, Beilage-Band 77: 455-506.
Wellnhofer P 1975a-c. Teil I. Die Rhamphorhynchoidea (Pterosauria) der Oberjura-Plattenkalke Süddeutschlands. Allgemeine Skelettmorphologie. Paleontographica A 148: 1-33. Teil II. Systematische Beschreibung. Paleontographica A 148: 132-186. Teil III. Paläokolgie und Stammesgeschichte. Palaeontographica 149: 1-30.

wiki/Rhamphorhynchus

Another look at the tiny pterosaur, Nemicolopterus

Not content
with a fully resolved cladogram, I wanted higher Bootstrap scores at certain nodes to ascertain nesting pairs. So I reviewed the data for several taxa, among them Nemicolopterus. I found mistakes and oversights, nearly all of which more closely match Nemicolopterus to its much taller sister, Shenzhoupterus (Fig. 1) within the larger encompassing Germanodactylus/Tapejara clade.

Figure 1. Germanodactylus cristatus and members of the Shenzhoupteridae, Nemicolopterus and Shenzhoupterus.

Figure 1. Germanodactylus cristatus and members of the Shenzhoupteridae, Nemicolopterus and Shenzhoupterus.

When first announced
(Wang et al. 2008), Nemicolopterus was hailed as the smallest, or one of the smallest known pterosaurs. And it is. But there is one other that is only half as tall (Fig. 2) which we looked at in more detail yesterdayB St 1967 I 276.

Figure 2. Nemicolopterus has been described as the smallest pterosaur, but No. 6 in the Wellnhofer (1970) catalog was only half as tall.

Figure 2. Nemicolopterus has been described as the smallest pterosaur, but B St 1967 I 276, No. 6 in the Wellnhofer (1970) catalog was only half as tall.

An insitu tracing 
animated in a GIF movie reveals the bones segregated by digital layers (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Two images of Nemicolopterus superimposed and traced with transparent colors. Note, not all of the shapes seen in photo 1 can be seen in photo 2. There appear to be extra tiny bones in the belly of this specimen.

Figure 3. Two images of Nemicolopterus superimposed and traced with transparent colors. Note, not all of the shapes seen in photo 1 can be seen in photo 2. There appear to be extra tiny bones in the belly of this specimen where all the ribs and gastralia have been accounted for. Click to enlarge. 

A displaced sliver of bone in the cheek
would appear to be the ventral portion of an orbit-dividing lacrimal, as in sister taxa. No one would identify this bone as such without phylogenetic bracketing. Hairlike soft tissue arising from the rostrum evidently precedes the rostral crest found in Shenzhoupterus. The free fingers remain unknown.

Phylogenetic miniaturization 
appears to be at work once again with Nemicolopterus, a tiny adult at the base of a major clade or two of pterosaurs in the large pterosaur tree.

References
Wang X, Kellner AWA, Zhou Z and Campos DA 2008. Discovery of a rare arboreal forest-dwelling flying reptile (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(6): 1983–1987. doi:10.1073/pnas.0707728105

wiki/Nemicolopterus

Pregnant hummingbird-like pterosaurs

Earlier
here and here we looked at pregnant pterosaurs. As you may recall, as lepidosaurs pterosaurs could retain their young in utero much longer than archosaurs do. Archosaur embryos are microscopic when laid and they develop in the egg outside of the uterus. Some extant lepidosaurs retain their young in utero to the stage of viviparity. Others lay eggs at an advanced stage. Today, two more tiny pterosaurs are shown to be adult females, based on the embryo inside of each of them.

As long-time readers know, 
phylogenetic analysis of the Pterosauria that includes the tiniest hummingbird-sized individuals from the Solnhofen formation nest them all as adults. They have been phylogenetically miniaturized and generally they nest at the bases of major clades. Generally the smallest pterosaurs are transitional from larger taxa and to larger taxa, but they are also often surrounded by other tiny transitional pterosaurs. That’s how we arrive at pterodactyloid-grade pterosaurs at least 4x. By convergence anurognathids and wukongopterids also added some, but not all, pterodactyloid traits.

Other workers,
who refuse to test the tiny ones, mistakenly assert that the tiny ones are babies. If that were true then, as the other workers suggest, pterosaurs would have to develop isometrically, changing shape with maturity. Several examples of embryo and juvenile pterosaurs demonstrate irrevocably that that is not true. Juveniles and embryos are carbon copies of the adults.

The smallest adult pterosaur is
Pterodactylus? kochi? B St 1967 I 276 (No. 6 of Wellnhofer 1970, (Figs. 1,2).

Figure 1. Pterodactylus? kochi? B St 1967 I 276 (No. 6 of Wellnhofer 1970) is the smallest known adult pterosaur. It is also pregnant. Note the relatively enormous sternal complex, analogous to that of a hummingbird of similar size.

Figure 1. Pterodactylus? kochi? B St 1967 I 276 (No. 6 of Wellnhofer 1970) is the smallest known adult pterosaur. It is also pregnant. Note the relatively enormous sternal complex, analogous to that of a hummingbird of similar size.

I did not realize
how large the sternal complex was on this pterosaur, Such a large pectoral anchor suggests the wings were flapped strongly or rapidly or both, possibly as in similarly-sized hummingbirds. The coracoids are also larger than earlier reconstructed.

Figure 2. The torso of B St 1967 I 276 (No. 6 of Wellnhofer 1970) showing the pectoral girdle and embryo.

Figure 2. The torso of B St 1967 I 276 (No. 6 of Wellnhofer 1970) showing elements of the pectoral girdle, pelvic girdle and embryo. The coracoids are also quite large. 

Nesting with the smallest known pterosaur
in the large pterosaur cladogram, is another tiny Solnhofen specimen, BMNH 42736, which also has a large sternal complex and is, by coincidence, pregnant.

Figure 4. Two of the smallest pterosaurs that both have a large sternal complex. BMNH42736 and B St 1967 I 276.

Figure 4. Two of the smallest pterosaurs that both have a large sternal complex. BMNH42736 and B St 1967 I 276. If your screen resolution is 72 dpi, these are shown > 1.5x larger than they were in life.

All I really wanted to do
was gather the data on this pterosaur to see where mistakes had been made. Finding tiny extra bones in the base of the abdomen was a surprise. These two, despite their differences, nest together in the large pterosaur tree.

Figure 6. Torso region of BMNH 42736 showing various bones, soft tissues and embryo.

Figure 6. BMNH 42736 showing various bones, soft tissues and embryo.

References
Bennett SC 2006. Juvenile specimens of the pterosaur Germanodactylus cristatus, with a review of the genus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26:872–878.SMNS
Hedges SB and Thomas R 2001. At the Lower Size Limit in Amniote Vertebrates: A New Diminutive Lizard from the West Indies. Caribbean Journal of Science 37:168–173.
Hone and Benton 2006. Cope’s Rule in the Pterosauria, and differing perceptions of Cope’s Rule at different taxonomic levels. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20(3): 1164–1170. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2006.01284.x
Unwin D M 2006. The Pterosaurs From Deep Time. 347 pp. New York, Pi Press.
Wang X, Kellner AWA, Zhou Z and Campos DA 2008. Discovery of a rare arboreal forest-dwelling flying reptile (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(6): 1983–1987. doi:10.1073/pnas.0707728105
Wellnhofer P 1970. Die Pterodactyloidea (Pterosauria) der Oberjura-Plattenkalke Süddeutschlands. Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, N.F., Munich 141: 1-133.

wiki/Pterodactylus

 

 

A peek beneath the ribs of Pterodactylus scolopaciceps

A not so recent PLOSOne paper (Vidovic and Martill 2014, Late Jurassic) on Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (Meyer 1860, BSP 1937 I 18 (Broili 1938, P. kochi No. 21 of Wellnhofer 1970, 1991) provided the images seen here (Figs. 3, 4). It is one of the best preserved pterosaurs of all. Earlier we critically examined Vidovic and Martill 2014 here. A few short notes and images (Figs. 1,2) below will summarize those criticisms. Otherwise, the photos bring today’s news: tracings of the overlooked coracoids, sternal complex and an early embryo (Figs. 4, 5).

Vidovic and Martill reported,
“The majority of pterosaur species from the Solnhofen Limestone, including P. scolopaciceps are represented by juveniles.” This is utter rubbish.  Several hummingbird- to sparrow-sized adults, yes! …and some with long rostra! …but no verifiable juveniles, EXCEPT the juvenile of the giant Rhamphorhynchus recovered and described here. Remember, pterosaur embryos and juveniles are close matches to their parents as they develop isometrically, able to fly upon hatching, not allometrically. The large pterosaur tree demonstrates the phylogenetic miniaturization is what saved certain pterosaur lineages from extinction following a great radiation in the Late Jurassic. This is evidence Vidovic and Martill refuse to accept.

Vidovic and Martill continue:
“Consequently, specimens can appear remarkably similar due to juvenile characteristics detracting from taxonomic differences that are exaggerated in later ontogeny.” More rubbish based on adherence to Bennett (1996, 1996. 3006) who synonimized dozens of Solnhofen specimens without so much as an attempt at phylogenetic analysis, which lumps and separates the lot into individual taxa here. The Vidovic and Martill cladogram includes only 33 taxa (10 from Solnhofen) and lumps several pterosaurs successfully together (tapejarids, ctenochasmatids, pteranodontids), but fails to put these clades correctly into large clades, nesting sharp beak toothless taxa with broad beak toothy taxa, etc. etc.

Vidovic and Martill dig themselves deeper
“A hypodigm for P. scolopaciceps, comprising of the holotype (BSP AS V 29 a/b) and material Broili referred to the taxon is described. P. scolopaciceps is found to be a valid taxon, but placement within Pterodactylus is inappropriate. Consequently, the new genus Aerodactylus is erected to accommodate it.” As you can see (Figs. 1, 2) and as has been tested, placement within Pterodactylus (Fig. 2)  is MORE appropriate than nesting with purported sisters promoted by Vidovic and Martill (Fig. 1).

Figure 4. Sister taxa of "Aerodactylus" according to Vidovic and Martill 2014 include Gladocephaloides and Cycnnorhamphus. More rubbish.

Figure 1. Sister taxa of “Aerodactylus” according to Vidovic and Martill 2014 include Gladocephaloideus and Cycnnorhamphus. More rubbish. Neither are even related to one another as the former is a ctenochasmatid and the latter, of course, is a cycnohrmphid. Click to enlarge.

Evolution works in minute steps
and the more traits shared between specimens, both overall and in minute detail, the more closely they are related. Vidovic and Martill may also be working under the false assumption that pterosaurs are archosaurs and follow archosaur fusion patterns. No. Pterosaurs are lepidosaurs and follow lepidosaur fusion patterns, which are largely phylogenetic, not ontogenetic, as reported earlier.

Figure 3. Click to enlarge. The large pterosaur tree nests these three taxa together. So this Pterodactylus really is a Pterodactylus.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. The large pterosaur tree nests these three taxa together. So this Pterodactylus (BSP AS V 28a/b) really is a Pterodactylus (contra Vidovic and Martill)

 

Enough about that paper.
I was drawn to this specimen (Fig. 3) because I did not have data for the coracoids and took another look for them with this excellent photo.

Figure 1. Pterodactylus scolpaciceps from Vidovic and Martill 2014 with elements below the ribs traced in color.

Figure 3. Pterodactylus scolpaciceps from Vidovic and Martill 2014 with elements below the ribs traced in color. Soft tissue is persevered in this specimen, and so is an embryo.

Lo and behold
the coracoids and sternal complex were visible as impressions (Figs. 3, 4) and there was something else further back… an embryo. Not full term. Not fully ossified. The wings are invisible or lost among the ribs and gastralia. Unlike 3D eggs, crushed fossils lay out all the elements into a single bedding plane.

Figure 2. Closeup of the torso of Pterodactylus scolopaciceps showing the coracoids, sternal complex and a passenger.

Figure 4 Closeup of the torso of Pterodactylus scolopaciceps showing the coracoids, sternal complex and a passenger. I was drawn to revisit this specimen because I lacked data for the length of the coracoids. This excellent image provided that data and possibly more. The bones of the embryo are not fully ossified yet. The shell is not formed. Those happen closer to the time just before egg-laying.

The embryo 
is the right size, shape and morphology to someday pass through the pelvis. The bones are soft and underdeveloped. No trace of an eggshell is apparent, but that’s not supposed to happen until the last stages of gestation.

Figure 4. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps reconstructed with the passenger shown here expelled. It is the right size, shape and morphology to be an embryo within an egg.

Figure 5. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps reconstructed with the passenger shown here expelled. It is the right size, shape and morphology to be an embryo within an egg.

Unlike archosaurs
lepidosaurs carry their young for longer terms, sometimes to the point of live birth (viviparity). Earlier I proposed that pterosaurs, like some of their sister lepidosaurs, carried their embryos until just prior to hatching. Other workers, all of whom consider pterosaurs archosaurs, thought egg burial was their method of reproduction. Not sure how they imagine a fragile pterosaur with tearable wing membranes would manage to dig through whatever dirt, sand or debris they were buried in. The aborted egg of Darwinopterus similarly contains an immature and unossified embryo. We also have an aborted fetus in Anurognathus and an aborted egg in the tiny pterosaur, Ornithocephalus added to the Pterodaustro embryo, the ornithocheirid embryo (revised recently) and the (relatively) giant, proto-anurognathid embryo.

How many pterosaur fossils are pregnant?
If they are doing their job, half of the adults should be pregnant, unless females greatly outnumber males, then that percentage goes up. Very few, however, will be preserved with late stage embryos that preserve even impressions of bones. As everyone knows the thinnest bone walls in the animal kingdom are pterosaur bones, thinner yet in embryos and  softer yet in younger embryos.

It’s time people
It’s time to let go of those old paradigms about pterosaur origins, wing shape and interrelationships. Those old hypotheses are not working. They cannot be verified. They are the stuff of myth. I would hate to think that these workers are refereeing manuscripts.

Carl Sagan said this about letting go of old paradigms,
“The essence of the Scientific method is the willingness to admit your’re wrong, to abandon ideas that don’t work, and the essence of religion is not to change anything, that supposed truths are handed down by some revered figure and no one is to make any progress beyond that because all the truth is thought to be in hand.”

References
Bennett SC 1995. A statistical study of Rhamphorhynchus from the Solnhofen Limestone of Germany: Year-classes of a single large species. Journal of Paleontology 69:569-580.
Bennett SC 1996. Year-classes of pterosaurs from the Solnhofen limestone of Germany: Taxonomic and systematic implications. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16: 432–444.
Bennett SC 2006. Juvenile specimens of the pterosaur Germanodactylus cristatus, with a review of the genus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26:872–878.
Vidovic SU, Martill DM 2014. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps Meyer, 1860 (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from the Upper Jurassic of Bavaria, Germany: The Problem of Cryptic Pterosaur Taxa in Early Ontogeny. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110646. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110646

Hamipterus – a closer look at gender and ontogeny

Wang et al. 2014 introduced us
two years ago to a new collection of pterosaur parts from a monotypic population that was swept together and disarticulated by a flood event. As you may recall, five well-preserved three-dimensional eggs were recovered from the Early Cretaceous site in northwestern China. Sexual dimorphism was identified for the first time in pterosaurs with two different types of crests appeared on a variety of sizes of skulls (Figs. 1, 2). They named the new specimen, Hamipterus tianshanensis and the holotype was described as, One complete presumed female skull (IVPP V18931.1)”.

Figure 1. The female holotype and male paratype from the Hamipterus population assemblage fossil. The second tracing enlarges the male skull to the same length as the female skull. The color bar overprints indicate parts that differ in length from one skull to the other and a second overlay traces tooth position shifts from one to another.

Figure 1. The female holotype and male paratype from the Hamipterus population assemblage fossil. The second tracing enlarges the male skull to the same length as the female skull. The color bar overprints indicate parts that differ in length from one skull to the other and a second overlay traces tooth position shifts from one to another. The vestigial naris appears between the nasal and jugal beneath the crest. Direct comparisons like this help reveal subtle differences that otherwise might be overlooked.

Such a sweeping together of so many individuals
provides an unprecedented insight into several areas of pterosaur biology, but the data need to be rigorously examined so as not to jump to any conclusions.

Visible differences in the two skulls

  1. Crest shape
  2. Tooth placement
  3. Ventral maxilla shape
  4. Lateral extent of the premaxilla
  5. Depth of the skull anterior to the antorbital fenestra
  6. Concave vs. straight rostral margin (sans crest)
  7. Length of the upper temporal fenestra
  8. Placement of the vestigial naris
  9. Suborbital depth of the jugal

Gender
Wang et al. report, “About 40 male and female individuals in total were recovered, but the actual number associated might be in the hundreds. All of the discovered skulls have crests, which exhibit two different morphologies in size, shape, and robustness. Although morphological variation could be interpreted as individual variation, these marked differences suggest that the skulls belong to different genders. Hamipterus tianshanensis contradicts this hypothesis, because this species indicates that morphology of the crest, rather than its presence.”

Consider what we know about gender differences in birds and lizards,
It may be too soon to generalize over gender differences in pterosaurs. While each gender could have its own signature crest, size, etc., likewise each species likely had its own signature identity/crest/color/call, plumage, etc. At present, no other pterosaurs show verifiable gender differences. That’s why the Wang et al. paper was so important. Gender differences described for both Darwinopterus and Pteranodon were shown to be phylogenetic. Darwinopterus does present a mother with an aborted egg, but the father of the egg has not been identified. Hamipterus offers the best opportunity, so far, to bring some data to the table on this topic. And what Wang et al. indicate may indeed be true.

However, not enough care, IMHO, was administered to the non-crest differences in the skull material was made. Considering just the arrangement of teeth in the jaws (Fig. 1), is it possible that two very closely related species lived near one another? Or did individual variation cover a wider gamut than we now think is reasonable? Remember, among all the Pteranodon specimens now known (to me, at least), no two are identical. The same can be said for the Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus specimens. And when you give Hamipterus a rigorous study, several subtle variations arise. Some of these arise from crushing. Others do not. With given data, one wonders if these could be two Hamipterus variations could be very closely related and.or very closely nesting sister taxa. OR… with present data, gender differences could extend beyond just the crest.

It is also possible
that male pterosaurs were rare rogues and this was a colony of females only with lots of individual variation. Do male lizards help raise their young? Do females? No. But pterosaurs might have been different. Wang et al. report on 40 individuals, but not on the male/female ratio or how many skulls are known. There were three in the holotype block. I’m guessing their specimen count was based on 40 skulls.

Figure 2. Finishing up the large skull with the large crest with two smaller candidates reveals that the slightly better fit is with the female skull.

Figure 2. Finishing up the large skull with the large crest with two smaller candidates reveals that the slightly better fit is with the female skull.

Ontogeny
Wang et al. report, “Ontogenetic variation is reflected mainly in the [lateral] expansion of the [spoon-shaped in dorsal view] rostrum.” Wang et al. reinforce what we know from other pterosaurs that they developed isometrically. Note the similarity between the crests of the smaller and larger ‘male’ specimens (Fig. 2). We’ve seen that before with Tupuxuara juveniles (Fig. 3).

Figure 1. Ontogenetic skull and crest development in Tupuxuara. Note the eyes are small and the rostrum is long in juveniles. Only the crest expands and only posteriorly.

Figure 3. Presumed ontogenetic skull and crest development in Tupuxuara. Note the eyes are small and the rostrum is long in juveniles. Only the crest expands and only posteriorly. Are are these two different sized but otherwise related species? With that longer rostrum, the smaller specimen may be distinct phylogenetically. No small crest Tupuxuara specimens are known.

Sedimentology
Wang et al. report, “Tempestite interlayers where nearly all of the pterosaur fossils are found suggest that large storms caused the mass mortality, event deposits, and lagersta¨ tte of the pterosaur population.”

Phylogenetically
Wang et al. discussed what Hamipterus is not. Their analysis nested it at the base of the Ornithocheiridae with complete lack of resolution. The large pterosaur tree nests Hamipterus with complete resolution between Boreopterus and Zhenyuanopterus.

Eggs
Wang et al. report, “A total of five eggs were recovered from the same site. The outer surface is smooth and exhibits no ‘papilla-like ornamentation,’ as was reported of the first pterosaur egg found in China.” Well that was a giant anurognathid egg, for which finding the parent will be big news. I’d be more interested to see comparisons to the second pterosaur egg found in China, the JZMP egg/embryo, which belonged to a rather closely related [to Hamipterus] ornithocheirid.

Wang et al. report, “Due to the close proximity to Hamipterus tianshanensis, the sole taxon found at the site, all of the eggs are referred to this species. Compared with other reptiles, the Hamipterus eggs show more similarities with some squamates,” I love it when every bit of data supports the theory that pterosaurs are lepidosaurs.

Wang et al. report, a 60µm calcareous eggshell followed by a thin 11µm inner membrane. They compared that to a snake egg of similar dimensions with a 60µm calcareous membrane followed by a much thicker 200µm inner membrane. Then they speculate wildly with this imaginative statement, “It is possible that Hamipterus also had a much thicker membrane, which was not completely preserved. We propose that such an eggshell structure, similar to that of some snakes, may well explain the preservation of the outer surface observed in pterosaur eggs.” IMHO, paleontologists go too far when they try to explain away data, rather than dealing with it directly. Elgin, Hone and Frey (2011) did this with their infamous wing membranes which they speculated suffered from imagined “shrinkage” in order to protect their verifiably false deep chord wing membrane hypothesis.

Wang et al report, “The [egg] size differences might also reflect different stages of development, since mass and dimensions differ between recently laid eggs and more developed ones.” There’s another possibility. Since we know that half-sized female pterosaurs were of breeding age (Chinsamy et al. 2008) they could have laid smaller eggs, producing smaller young, one source of rapid phylogenetic miniaturization.

Wang et al. report, “The combination of many pterosaurs and eggs indicates the presence of a nesting site nearby and suggests that this species developed gregarious behavior. Hamipterus likely made its nesting grounds on the shores of freshwater lakes or rivers and buried its eggs in sand along the shore, preventing them from being desiccated.” There’s another possibility. Since pterosaurs are lepidosaurs, they could have retained the eggs in utero until the young were ready to hatch. That also prevents them from desiccation. Since the flood tore the bones apart, any in utero eggs would have been torn away from the mother as well.

Notable by its absence
is any report of embryo bones inside the eggshells. I presume none were found or they would have been reported. That’s a shame, too, because eggs are nice little containers for complete skeletons, something lacking at the Hamipterus site. Some of the eggs appear to be evacuated, as if they were empty when buried. Or maybe all the juices were squeezed out during the rush and tumble of flood waters. If there was an embryo inside one of the Hamipterus eggs, and that is likely as the egg shell is applied just before egg laying, the embryo might have looked something like this (Fig. 3) based on the other pterosaur embryos inside their own two-dimensional eggs and the appearance of more complete sister taxa. During taphonomy the embryo inside would have been shaken AND stirred (but note some skulls are preserved complete without destruction!). The three dimensional egg contents would not accumulate on the randomly chosen longitudinal saw cut.

Figure 3. Wang et al. sliced one of the eggs lengthwise (yellow). if there is an embryo inside, it might have looked something like this. Since the egg has not been crushed to two dimensions, all the bones would not be now located in the plane of the slice, which was a random cut, not recognizing any embryo inside.

Figure 3. Wang et al. sliced one of the eggs lengthwise (yellow). if there is an embryo inside, it might have looked something like this. Since the egg has not been crushed to two dimensions, all the bones would not be now located in the plane of the slice, which was a random cut, not recognizing any embryo inside. Other embryos are typically in this pose.

Pterosaur hatchlings
of this size were precocial, able to fly shortly after hatching and large enough not to suffer from desiccation caused by so much surface area compared to volume.

References
Chinsamy A, Codorniú L and Chiappe LM 2008. Developmental growth patterns of the filter-feeder pterosaur, Pterodaustro guinazui. Biology Letters, 4: 282-285.
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 online pdf
Wang X et al.*, 2014.
 Sexually Dimorphic Tridimensionally Preserved Pterosaurs and Their Eggs from China, Current Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.054