Flugsaurier 2018: Los Angeles County Museum

is a meeting of those interested in pterosaurs that happens in another part of the world every few years. I went to the first few. Saw a lot of specimens. Met a lot of colleagues. Produced a few abstracts and gave some presentations.

Over the next few days
there’s a Flugsaurier meeting taking place in Los Angeles. Many well-known and not-so-well known speakers are giving presentations this year. I will not be among them. Why?

So far as I know,
all of the conveners and many of the presenters continue to ignore a paper I wrote 18 years ago on the origin of pterosaurs from fenestrasaurs, not archosaurs. Other papers followed on wing shape, trackmaker identification and other topics, all supporting that phylogenetic hypothesis of relationships. Evidently workers would prefer to hope that pterosaurs arose from archosaurs close to dinosaurs. This is not where the data takes anyone interested in the topic who is not a party to taxon exclusion.

In addition, several of the conveners

  1. subscribe to the invalid quad-launch hypothesis
  2. the bat-wing reconstruction of the brachiopatagium.
  3. they believe that pedal digit 5 framed a uropatagium.
  4. They refuse to add tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs to their cladograms.
  5. They refuse to add several specimens of each purported genus to cladograms—and because of this they don’t recognize the four origins of the pterodactyloid-grade (not clade).
  6. They still don’t recognize that pterosaurs grew isometrically.
  7. They still don’t accept that pterosaur mothers retained their egg/embryo within the body until just before hatching (a lepidosaur trait).
  8. They still don’t accept that pterosaur bone fusion patterns follow lepidosaur, rather than archosaur patterns.
  9. They accept the idea that giant eyeballs filled the anterior skulls of anurognathids, not realizing that the supposed ‘scleral ring’ on edge of the flathead anurognathid is actually the mandible and tiny teeth.
  10. They reject any notion that all basal and some derived pterosaurs were bipedal, despite the footprint and morphological evidence proving bipedal locomotion.
  11. They all hold out hope that the largest azhdarchids could fly.
  12. I was going to say that all workers believe that crest size and hip shape identify gender, when the evidence indicates these are both phylogenetic markers, but then I found an abstract in 2018 that casts doubt on the gender/crest/pelvis hypothesis. So there’s hope.

That’s a fairly long list of ‘basics’
that most pterosaur workers ‘believe in’ despite the fact that there is no evidence for these false paradigms — but plenty of evidence for the lepidosaur origin of pterosaurs, from which most of the above hypotheses follow.

I am not attending Flugsaurier 2018
because the convening pterosaur workers deny and suppress the data listed above. Plus, I can more actively and thoroughly test assertions made during the conference from ‘my perch’ here in mid-America.

Good luck to those attending. 
Test all assertions and hypotheses, no matter their source.


What would pterosaurs be, if tritosaurs were not known?

This is lesson 4 in taxon exclusion…
to see where select clades would nest in the absence of their proximal taxa.

Now that
the large reptile tree has grown more than three fold in the last seven years, it’s time to ask (or ask again) some phylogenetic questions.

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

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

pterosaurs are nested with archosauriformes, like Scleromochlus, close to dinosaurs, but only in the absence of fenestrasaurs and tritosaurs. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1242 taxa), which includes representatives from all tetrapod clades, pterosaurs nest with fenestrasaurs (Peters 2000) and tritosaur, lepidosaurs (not prolacertiformes (contra Peters 2000, who did not test Huehuecuetzpalli, which came out in 1998).

In the absence of tritosaurs (and Archosauromorpha)
pterosaurs nest with drepanosaurs, both derived from Jesairosaurus.

In the absence of tritosaurs (and Lepidosauromorpha)
pterosaurs nest between Mei and Yi among the scansoriopterygid birds (Fig. 2) which are derived from Late Jurassic Solnhofen bird taxa, too late for the Late Triassic appearance of pterosaurs like Bergamodactylus (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Two Mei long specimens, one in vivo, one in situ.  Click to enlarge.

Figure 2. Two Mei long specimens, one in vivo, one in situ.  Click to enlarge.

Taxon exclusion
has been the number one problem in traditional paleontology. That’s why the LRT includes such a wide gamut of taxa. The result is a minimizing of taxon exclusion and the problems that attend it.

Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.

False pterosaur propaganda over at Wikipedia

On occasion I take a look at the Wikipedia page
on Pterosaurs to see where the authors have edited in Peters 2000 in or out on the origins section. At present this is what the Wiki authors say. My comments follow in bold.

“Like the dinosaurs, and unlike these other reptiles, pterosaurs are more closely related to birds than to crocodiles or any other living reptile.” [false, living lepidosaurs are closer]

Because pterosaur anatomy has been so heavily modified for flight, and immediate transitional fossil predecessors have not so far been described [false, see Peters 2000], the ancestry of pterosaurs is not fully understood [false, see Peters 2000]. Several hypotheses have been advanced, including links to the avemetatarsalian-like Scleromochlus, an ancestry among the basal archosauriforms, like Euparkeria, or among the protorosaurs.

Two researchers, Chris Bennett (1996) and David Peters (2000), have found pterosaurs to be protorosaurs or closely related to them [false, Bennett nested pterosaurs between Proterosuchus and Erythrosuchus] [this Wiki author fails to list Cosesaurus, Longisquama, Sharovipteryx, Langobardisaurus and Macrocnemus, none of which are considered protorosaurs any more]. Peters used a technique called DGS [false, that was 5 years before DGS was ‘invented’], which involves applying the digital tracing features of photo editing software to images of pterosaur fossils. [this citation is falsely attributed to Irmis et al. 2007] Bennett only recovered pterosaurs as close relatives of the protorosaurs after removing characteristics of the hind limb from his analysis, in an attempt to test the idea that these characters are the result of convergent evolution between pterosaurs and dinosaurs. [false] However, subsequent analysis by Dave Hone and Michael Benton (2007) could not reproduce this result. Hone and Benton found pterosaurs to be closely related to dinosaurs even without hind limb characters. [false. They found pterosaurs nested between Scleromochlus and Parasuchia, Suchia, Ornithosuchia and Euparkeria after tossing out data provided by Peters 2000 based on typos later exposed by Bennett 2012] They also criticized previous studies by David Peters, raising questions about whether conclusions reached without access to the primary evidence, that is, pterosaur fossils, can be held to have the same weight as conclusions based strictly on first-hand interpretation. [false, I had studied pterosaur and fenestrasaur fossils both in the USA and in Europe] Hone and Benton concluded that, although more primitive pterosauromorphs are needed to clarify their relationships, pterosaurs are best considered archosaurs, and specifically ornithodirans, given current evidence. [remember, they tossed out contradicting evidence from Peters 2000, largely because Benton 1999 had published on the Scleromochlus and its relationship to pterosaurs] In Hone and Benton’s analysis, pterosaurs are either the sister group of Scleromochlus or fall between it and Lagosuchus on the ornithodiran family tree. [false, see above] Sterling Nesbitt (2011) found strong support for a clade composed of Scleromochlus and pterosaurs. [but Nesbitt did not include Huehuecuetzpalli, Macrocnemus, and members of the Fenestrasauria]

More recent studies on basal pterosaur hindlimb morphology seem to vindicate a connection to Scleromochlus [Witton 2015 is cited here]. Like this archosaur, basal pterosaur lineages have plantigrade hindlimbs that show adaptations for salutation. [Perhaps the Wiki author meant saltatory (leaping) locomotion, not personal greetings with a hand gesture. In any case, if anyone else thinks Scleromochlus had plantigrade feet, I’ll eat my hat. And did anyone notice, Scleromochlus has tiny vestigial hands and fingers?]

it was Hone and Benton who did not examine the pertinent fossils, but took all their data from published work to produce their supertree, after deleting and omitting all data and reference to Peters 2000 and giving credit to Bennett 1996 for both sides of the earlier competing hypotheses. Wonder why the Wiki author fails to bring up this key fact.

By the way,
Bennett (2012) reports that pterosaurs nested between the lumbering and aquatic archosauriforms Proterosuchus and Erythrosuchus. That moves the nesting away from Scleromochlus, Proterochampsids and Parasuchians, the previous archosaur ‘favorite candidates,’ which were earlier derided as “strange bedfellows.”

One of the reasons why I stopped contributing to this Wikipedia
and started ReptileEvolution.com is to provide another avenue to data than the rubbish any author can add to Wiki pages. If you want the latest on pterosaur origins, click here. For an earlier source of much of this false propaganda click here.

Bennett SC 1996. The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha. Zool J Linn Soc. 118:261–309.
Bennett SC 2012. The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha re-examined. Historical Biology. iFirst article, 2012, 1–19.
Hone DWE, Benton MJ. 2007. An evaluation of the phylogenetic relationships of the pterosaurs among archosauromorph reptiles. J Syst Paleontol. 5:465–469.
Hone DWE, Benton MJ. 2008. Contrasting supertree and total-evidence methods: the origin of pterosaurs. In: Buffetaut E, Hone DWE, editors. Flugsaurier: pterosaur papers in honour of Peter Wellnhofer. Munich, Germany, p. 35–60, Zitteliana B 28.
Irmis RB, et al. 2007. A Late Triassic Dinosauromorph Assemblage from New Mexico and the Rise of Dinosaurs. Science. 317 (5836): 358–61. PMID 17641198. doi:10.1126/science.1143325.
Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods.  Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
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 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-1330.

Don’t give up on the origin of pterosaurs!

Evidently it is still widely held
that pterosaurs appeared suddenly without antecedent. As evidence of this failure to follow the data, I came across a blog called Tetrapod Flight in which the author, Leon Linde, writes on Monday, March 16, 2015:

  1. The first tetrapods to evolve powered flight were the pterosaurs. True
  2. These were a group of archosaurs related to the dinosaurs, but not dinosaurs themselves. False. Pterosaurs are lepidosaurs, not related to dinos. 
  3. The earliest known pterosaur was Eudimorphodon, who lived in what is now Italy around 230-220 million years ago, in the late Triassic. True enough
  4. However, while the earliest known pterosaur, Eudimorphodon had specialised multi-cusped teeth not found in any of the later pterosaurs, so it would not have been ancestral to them but rather part of a distinct pterosaur lineage that died out in the Triassic. False. Multicupsed teeth are found in several Triassic pterosaurs AND in their proximal sisters. 
  5. Furthermore, both Eudimorphodon and other late Triassic pterosaurs are “completely” developed, having all the typical pterosaur skeletal characteristics. True. That’s why they are called pterosaurs. They have all ‘the goods’.
  6. This suggests the origins of pterosaurs may lie even further back in the past, in the earlier Triassic or perhaps even in the Permian (Wellnhofer, 1991). Yes to the earlier (Middle) Triassic (Cosesaurus) and No to the Permian. 
  7. No fossils of the pterosaurs’ immediate ancestors are known. False. We have pterosaur proximal and distant ancestors going back to basal tetrapods with fins. Click here
  8. The most likely theory on their origins is that they evolved from arboreal creatures that would leap from branch to branch, flapping their forelimbs to stay airborne longer. Actually we have evidence for this scenario chronicled here.
  9. Pterosaur hips had great freedom of movement, their knees and ankles were hinge-like and their feet were plantigrade. True, True, True and False. Some beachcombers had plantigrade feet, but basal forms did not. 
  10. The knees and ankles did not permit the necessary rotation for them to move bipedally, so pterosaurs were obligate quadrupeds (though they may have had bipedal ancestors). False. Like living bipedal lizards, basal pterosaurs were bipedal and agile. We have their tracks! Later forms, especially beachcombers, were quadrupedal, and we have their tracks, too.
  11. A possible explanation for these features is that the early pterosaurs or proto-pterosaurs were arboreal creatures that evolved powerful leaping from branch to branch as an active mode of transport not dissimilar to that of arboreal leaping primates (Christopher, 1997). This reference should be Bennett 1997. Powerful leaping, fast running, yes, but without the use of the hands, which were flapping like those of birds and getting larger. Hard to develop wings when you’re using your hands on the ground. 
  12. These arboreal leapers would not have been gliders, who merely fall slowly downwards and forwards with the help of special flaps, but rather creatures utilising a quite different form of locomotion, one that led them to eventually having their forelimbs evolve into more and more sophisticated flapping airfoils. True! But not like the image below (which appeared on the blog post). This pretty but bogus image shows no flapping and no reason or benefit to having proto-wings on this dinosaur that should have been a fenestrasaur. 

Click to enlarge. A false series of pterosaur ancestors. Artist: Maija Karala.

this state of affairs in pterosaur research shows that the general public and pterosaur artists and workers alike are still stuck in the tail-dragging age. Evidently, they have decided to shun and overlook recent data that chronicles and documents the origin of pterosaurs.  See below and here.

Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods.  Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.
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 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-1330
Wild R 1993. A juvenile specimen of Eudimorphodon ranzii Zambelli (Reptilia, Pterosauria) from the upper Triassic (Norian) of Bergamo. Rivisita Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali “E. Caffi” Bergamo 16: 95-120.




Arcticodactylus a tiny Greenland Triassic pterosaur

Arcticodactylus cromptonellus (Kellner 2015, originally Eudimorphodon cromptonellus Jenkins et al. 1999, 1999; MGUH VP 3393) Late Triassic ~210mya ~8 cm snout to vent length was a tiny pterosaur derived from a sister to Eudimorphodon ranzii and phylogenetically preceded Campylognathoides and BSp 1994 specimen attributed to Eudimorphodon. Whether it was a juvenile or a tiny adult cannot be determined because juveniles and even embryos are identical to adults in pterosaurs. Note that that rostrum was not shorter and the orbit was not larger than in sister taxa. This specimen is one of the smallest known pterosaurs., but not THE smallest (Fig. 1) contra the Wikipedia article. That honor goes to B St 1967 I 276.

Figure 1. Articodactylus is evidently NOT the smallest pterosaur. That honor still goes to an unnamed specimen (not a Pterodactylus kochi juvenile) B St 1967 I 276.

Figure 1. Articodactylus is evidently NOT the smallest pterosaur. That honor still goes to an unnamed specimen (not a Pterodactylus kochi juvenile) B St 1967 I 276.

Distinct from E. ranzii,
the skull of Arctiodactylus had a rounder, less triangular orbit. The jugal was not as deep. The sternal complex did not have small lateral processes. The humerus was not as robust. The fingers were longer an more gracile. The prepubis was distinctly shaped.

Distinct from
Bergamodactylus the femur and tibia were smaller but the metatarsals were longer, compact and nearly subequal in length with IV smaller than III.

Jenkins FA Jr, Shubin NH, Gatesy SM and Padian K 1999. A primitive pterosaur of Late Triassic age from Greenland. Journal of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 19(3): 56A.
Jenkins FA Jr, Shubin NH, Gatesy SM and Padian K 1999. A diminutive pterosaur (Pterosauria: Eudimorphodontidae) from the Greenlandic Triassic. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University 155(9): 487-506.
Kellner AWA 2015. Comments on Triassic pterosaurs with discussion about ontogeny and description of new taxa. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 87(2): 669–689


Some things you learn are not found in any textbooks…yet.

No current discoveries are found in the latest textbooks. 
That’s because it takes time (years typically) for textbooks to be (in reverse order) assigned, accepted, distributed, printed, edited, written and illustrated, researched and concepted. Textbook publishers are out to sell the maximum number of books, so they write to the current consensus, which may be in flux on several points and hypotheses. The current consensus may also be wrong–but it remains the consensus.

There are no courses
at any colleges entitled, PTEROSAURS 101, 102 or 103. Who would attend? There are only two dozen people in the world who have an interest, who study them, or contribute to what we know about them. And where is the consensus? On some points, there is no consensus!! And all too often “the consensus” is holding on to outmoded, invalid and unverifiable paradigms (see below).

Every new fossil specimen is really a new chapter
in an ever expanding textbook on paleontology. And all paleontologists who publish are contributing authors to that future textbook.

Striiving for veracity
It is important for all workers to see things as they are in specimens, and not to reinterpret them to fit an established paradigm, no matter the temptation to do otherwise. For instance, narrow chord wing preservation in pterosaurs is not the result of ‘shrinkage’ as some workers report. Rather it is what it is, universal. All pterosaur specimens have narrow chord wings. If you know one that is different, please tell me. I know one that appears different, but that’s because part of its arm was ripped away and displaced. Look closely. That’s the way it is.

If Galileo
went to school as a teenager and found the following question on a test: “If object A at ten pounds and object B at 10 ounces both fall from 1000 feet at the precisely the same moment, how many seconds ahead of B will A strike the ground?” He’d would not have even had the opportunity to choose answer E. “zero seconds.” Common knowledge at the time, based on Aristotle, would not have allowed it, no matter the facts of this case, proven by experiment. This went on for centuries.

if you were in college today and were given the multiple choice question, “Which one of the following taxa is most closely related to pterosaurs? A. Dinosaurs. B. Scleromochlus. C. Proterochampsids (including Lagerpeton). D. Euparkeria. E. Erythrosucids. F. We don’t know.” You would have to pick “F” to get a good score, because that’s the current consensus… unless your professor had recently written a paper espousing one of the other answers (see below). “G. None of the above” is the better answer according to the large reptile tree where fenestrasaurs are more closely related to pterosaurs. But each one of the above (A-E) has been proposed by recent authors, not caring if they made sense or not.

Imagine the plight of the poor student in Paleontology 101 today
when he or she asks the professor about that website, “repitleevoluton.com” The professor is going to have to say, “If you want a good grade, you’ll ignore that website and provide the same answers that are in your textbook.” That’s what Dr. Darren Naish  reported online. Don’t consider, test or discuss other possibilities. Best to ignore them — if you want to advance in paleontology and get your Masters or PhD.

Take, as an example,
David Hone’s dissertation that was later published in two papers in which he proposed comparing two competing pterosaur origin hypotheses, one by Peters 2000 (Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx, Longiasquama) and one by Bennett 1996 (Scleromochlus) using the supertree method of analysis (combining several published analyses without actually examining any fossil specimens). Aware that his professor, Michael Benton, had earlier written a paper (Benton 1999) celebrating Scleromochlus as the sister to pterosaurs, Hone decided to delete and diminish the taxa proposed by Peters. He somehow created several typos in the Peters data and then deleted the entire Peters dataset because of those typos (references and the full story here). Then Hone and Benton (2008) gave credit for both competing hypotheses to Bennett while deleting all reference to Peters 2000. As a result, Hone received his PhD, two associated papers (Hone and Benton 2007, 2008) were published and Hone gained the ability to referee pterosaur manuscripts (like mine) submitted to academic journals. I wrote to Dr. Benton about the inconsistencies and leaps of logic between the two parts of their two part paper. His reply was a sheepish, “whoops. :  )”

See how it works? 
That’s how you crush an opposing hypothesis. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of current readily solvable problems, as Pterosaur Heresies readers are well aware. No PhD wants to admit he/she was wrong. On some problems consensus will likely never be achieved — because in order to do so all invalid candidate hypothesis writers would have to admit they were wrong.

And that’s just not going to happen.
Not without a fight or a dismissal. Let me know if you know of any instances of someone admitting they were wrong (I know of one semi-wrong situation regarding Dr. Padian and his fight with pterosaur tracks). In the origin of snakes, pterosaurs, turtles and dinosaurs there are lots of ‘right’ answers out there, but few challenges to the weaker hypothesis and no one admits to being wrong.

As history tells us, in paleontology it takes decades to turn the boat around. And paleontologists don’t want anyone else, even other paleontologists, solving their mysteries for them… even when solutions are published in the literature.

Thanks for your interest.
I will continue to study and make informed comment on new fossil specimens, (many that haven’t made the textbooks yet). I will throw a spotlight on problems and celebrate solutions as they are verified or not in the large reptile tree. And I encourage you to do the same. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

There are too many paleontologists who
matrices, textbooks and papers blindly
and not enough paleontologists who have the balls to say, “Hey, there’s something wrong here.”

We’ll help fix the world of paleontology someday.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen this year. After four years of working with the large reptile tree, and improving it, and enlarging it year after year, it still has not been accepted for publication or gained intrigue among basal reptile workers. They don’t like it. It rocks the boat.

Bennett SC 1996. The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha. Zoolological Journal of the Linnean Society 118: 261–308.
Benton MJ 1999. Scleromochlus taylori and the origin of the pterosaurs. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, Series B 354 1423-1446. Online pdf
Hone DWE and Benton MJ 2007. An evaluation of the phylogenetic relationships of the pterosaurs to the archosauromorph reptiles. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 5:465–469.
Hone DWE and Benton MJ 2008. Contrasting supertree and total evidence methods: the origin of the pterosaurs. Zitteliana B28:35–60.
Peters D 2000. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.

News on the Origin of Pterosaurs on YouTube

I just uploaded a pterosaur origins video on YouTube. Click here to view it.

Click to view this "Origin of Pterosaurs" video on YouTube.

Click to view this “Origin of Pterosaurs” video on YouTube. 17 minutes long.