July 2011-July 2018: Marking 7 years of paleo-heresies.

On July 12, 2011
a new blogpost entitled, “Welcome to The Pterosaur Heresies” first appeared online. It was (and is) meant to be the newsletter for taxon additions to the large reptile tree (LRT, 1255 taxa) at ReptileEvolution.com. More complete explanations and documentation can be provided here than at ReptileEvolution.com.

Starting two days later (July 14, 2011) and for the next three days,
the several hypotheses of pterosaur origins were compared one with another.

About a week later (July 22, 2011)
a completely resolved family of pterosaurs was presented. This was the first one to include several specimens from all well-known genera and the first to include tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs, first listed by Peters 2007. Previously tiny pterosaurs had been ignored based on the false premise that they were juveniles of larger specimens. That is a disproved hypothesis that continues to make the rounds. And we said goodbye to the clade, “Pterodactyloidea” because now 4 clades are recovered that share all of the pterodactyloid-grade traits, while two others share some, but not all of those traits. Have other workers started to include tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs in their analyses? No.

On the last day of that first month (July 31, 2011)
a  phylogenetic analysis of just 235 taxa was presented that recovered a completely resolved and diphyletic Reptilia (= Amniota), with one branch, the new Lepidosauromorpha, containing turtles, pterosaurs and lepidosaurs and their many relatives. The other branch, the new Archosauromorpha, contained mammals, enaliosaurs, archosaurs and their many relatives. An amphibian-like reptile, Gephyrostegus was their last common ancestor.  Today, with more than 1000 additional taxa, the original topology from seven years ago remains unchanged. Have other workers started to include basal amphibian-like reptiles in their analyses? No.

In the seven years since July 2011
hundreds of exciting and heretical discoveries have been recovered. Some of these resolve long-standing problems by simply adding taxa. Others shed new light on topics that were not thought to be problems at all by simply adding taxa. Ironically, several other workers gained worldwide acclaim for ‘discovering’ relationships that were recovered in the LRT and promoted here years earlier. Still other workers continue to criticize the LRT, claiming it should have failed some time ago, but the LRT continues to grow.

a propagandistic pall was cast on the LRT, so most workers have ignored the taxon inclusion/exclusion suggestions offered here, leaving their work open to criticism from the ever-growing authority of the LRT.

Whatever the faults of the LRT,
the specimens included here need only be included in more focused analyses using independent character lists to test them. In other words, the faults don’t have to be employed, only the suggested taxa. When that happens, confirmation of the LRT has been the typical result. Why? Because the wide gamut and sheer number of taxa minimize the possibility of taxon exclusion, the number one problem in prior, less inclusive analyses. If you have a tetrapod of unknown affinity, test it here at the LRT.

One unexpected and disappointing discovery:
DNA analysis, the standard for crime-fighting and paternity questions, has not been able to replicate the results of wider trait studies. Rather, DNA studies lose their efficacy over large phylogenetic distances when compared to the trait-oriented LRT. Worse yet for paleontology, DNA cannot be used with most fossils. Unfortunately, many paleontologists still believe in the validity of DNA studies.

Figure 2. Dr. Sean Carroll and Dr. Antonis Rokas

Figure 1. Dr. Sean Carroll and Dr. Antonis Rokas

On that note…
Quoted from EvolutionNews.org, “Finally, a study published in Science in 2005 (Rokas and Carroll 2006) tried to use genes to reconstruct the relationships of the animal phyla, but concluded that “despite the amount of data and breadth of taxa analyzed, relationships among most [animal] phyla remained unresolved.” The following year, the same authors published a scientific paper titled, “Bushes in the Tree of Life,” which offered striking conclusions. The authors acknowledge that “a large fraction of single genes produce phylogenies of poor quality,” observing that one study “omitted 35% of single genes from their data matrix, because those genes produced phylogenies at odds with conventional wisdom.” The paper suggests that “certain critical parts of the [tree of life] may be difficult to resolve, regardless of the quantity of conventional data available.” The paper even contends that “the recurring discovery of persistently unresolved clades (bushes) should force a re-evaluation of several widely held assumptions of molecular systematics.”

I was not aware of that 2005 paper
before a few days ago. It needs to be more widely considered.

While other blogs journalistically report on the works of others,
the Pterosaur Heresies scientifically tests the work of others. That’s what sets it apart. That’s what makes it fun, interesting and rewarding. That’s what makes it controversial. Hopefully, that’s why you’re a subscriber. If, instead, you keep waiting for the LRT to crash and burn, well, that should have happened by now, don’t you think?

This July 2018,
seven years after it was started in 2011 with 235 taxa, there are 1000+ more taxa, all gradually blended in a tree topology that has been growing organically and with virtual complete resolution (some taxa known only from mandibles and other scraps are less resolved). Still, critics keep harping on the same perceived shortcomings (too many taxa, too few traits, not enough firsthand observation, lack of expertise)—while not harping on the shortcomings of traditional studies (principally taxon exclusion) that fail to produce gradually blended (= similar) sister taxa. There has always been a double standard at play, not only here, but for new hypotheses in geology, astronomy, physics, and paleontology. It’s universal and has been at work for centuries. It used to be that religious leaders led the charge against new ideas. Now we have PhDs trying to do the same.

Even scientists are not immune from this thing we call ‘human nature.’
Dr. J Ostrom complained about it, too. It’s human nature to follow authority, to go with the majority, and to suppress contra-indicators. Facts sometimes take decades to be widely accepted, and that’s just the way it is. It’s not acceptable, but that’s the way it is.

The beauty of science is
you, yes you can perform your own analysis to confirm or refute any analysis you read about here or anywhere. If I can do it… you can do it.

Thank you for your readership.
If there are subjects/taxa you want me to cover, or issues that need resolution, let me know. I look forward each day to corresponding with each and every one of you.

Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting, Munich 27
Rokas A and Carroll SB 2006. Bushes in the Tree of Life. PLoS Biology, 4(11): 1899-1904.



PterosaurHeresies 2016 – a quick review

On this last day in 2016
I’m pleased to report the large reptile tree (LRT) went from about 600 taxa in January to 907 today, the largest jump in the 6 years it has been up. Most of these were birds and mammals. This new total does not include the 200+ pterosaurs and 60+ therapsids in satellite trees, some duplicated in the LRT. Revised constantly, the LRT is stronger now than at any prior time with less average phylogenetic distance between sisters than ever before.

Some of the reptiles we met in 2016:

  1. January was chiefly a dinosaur/theropod month, but ended with Bunostegos, a pareiasaur key to understanding turtle origins.
  2. Februarychanges come to the tyrannosauroidea.
  3. March – lots of lizards, but also a reader favorite: bat wing origins. And this poignant post featuring John Ostrom. A second flightless pterosaur.
  4. AprilFlapping before flight hypothesis re-re-re-confirmed.
  5. May – The true shape of the Atopodentatus skull was published. A new ichthyosaur mimic discovered.
  6. JuneTridentinosaurus traced and nested. A new stem snake: Tetrapodophis! And then there’s Vaughnictis, the last common ancestor of birds and bats in the LRT.
  7. July – Started hitting mammals hard, starting with the elephant. Tenrecs are odontocete whale ancestors!
  8. August – A Jurassic ancestor to rodents and multituberculates.
  9. SeptemberVintana nested with wombats. Goodbye Notoungulata.
  10. OctoberCarpolestes leaves the Primates. Two kinds of elephant shrews. Goodbye Cetacea!
  11. NovemberBehemotops and the Mysticeti. Ozimek not a sharovipterygid and not a glider.
  12. December – The aye-aye is not a primate. Indricotheres may be giant and hornless, but they are not rhinos.

Thank you
for your readership and your comments. Suggestions are always welcome.

As I’ve said before,
every taxon I approach and discuss I do so without prior knowledge. I learn as I go. Fortunately I have an increasingly powerful tool in the large reptile tree that keeps on working despite being ‘overstuffed’ with taxa.

Not sure what 2017 will bring,
but I imagine posts will be less frequent as most of the key amniote/reptile taxa have been covered by now. Hopefully several more PhDs will re-discover relationships that were first discovered and published here years ago, as several did this year. That’s a sign that the LRT is doing something right. I’m happy to see us all coming together in consensus, even if it takes awhile.

Preview of Flugsaurier 2015: Portsmouth

Fllugsaurier – Porstmouth 2015
is scheduled for August 25-29, 2015. Flugsaurier is a gathering of pterosaur experts eager to discuss their latest finds and hypotheses every two-three years. The last Flugsaurier occurred in Brazil 2013, with pictures here.

The fourth circular
just arrived and iincludes symposium and poster session titles and presenters. Some interesting talks are scheduled. My comments follow selected topic titles.

Chris Bennett and Paul Penkalski:
Waves of bone deposition on the rostrum of Pteranodon
Good news that someone else recognizes this. Laminated bone is present in all pterosaurs, promininent in Pteranodon and other large pterosaurs. The jugal and nasal both extend anteriorly more than traditionally thought. And that ‘layer’ at the tip of the rostrum (and mandible) in Pteranodon is a tooth. Of course, ontogenetic growth is also a likely suspect for those waves of bone deposition, but we’ll see what they say. I’d be interested to see how precise the interpretive drawings are.

Niels Bonde and Maria E. C. Leal:
Pneumatization in the earliest pterosaurs.
And hopefully they will discuss the same in the pre-pterosaur fenestrasaurs, Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama!

Breithaupt, B.H., Matthews, N.A., Connely, M.V. and V.L. Meyers:
Pterosaur terrestrial locomotion, pterosaur tracks, and photogrammetric ichnology of Pteraichnus and other ichnotaxa
But will they discuss the pedal without manus tracks featured in the pterosaur heresies and in Peters (2011)? Witton’s comments on pterosaur ichnites are a bad omen for this.

Brooks B. Britt, F. M. Dalla Vecchia, D. Chure, G. F. Englemann, M. Chambers C. M., Thelin and R. D. Scheetz:
A new Triassic pterosaur from interdunal desert deposits of the Nugget Sandstone (NW Utah, USA
This is good news.

Xin Cheng, Shunxing Jiang, Xiaolin Wang and Alexander W. A. Kellner:
A new anurognathid pterosaur (Pterosauria, Anurognathidae) with complete skull and long tail from the Jurassic of China.
This is good news. Click here, here and here to see other anurognathids with a long tail.

David W. E. Hone, X. Xu, S. Jiang and J. R. Hutchinson:
The return of the holotype of Noripterus (Young, 1973) – implications for dsungaripterid taxonomy and a possible digitigrade pterosaur.
Digitigrade pterosaurs? Like I demonstrated in Peters (2000, 2011)? OMG!! Everyone has hated this (despite the evidence, for 15 years… and glad to see Noripterus is being retained.

Shunxing Jiang, Xiaolin Wang and Yingxia Ma:
A new archaeopterodactyloid pterosaur from the Jiufotang Formation in west Liaoning, China.
This is good news. Unfortunately the clade is not monophyletic because it contains ctenochasmatids. Click here for pterosaur cladogram.

Mark P. Witton:
Flight performance and lifestyle of Dimorphodon macronyx
With Witton’s interpretation of deep chord wing membranes and a single uropatagium stretched between the legs, this is going to be a head-scratcher lacking a basis in valid restoration… unless he has become a narrow chord dual uropatagia advocate, as shown here and going back to Peters (1995, 2002).

Alexander W. A. Kellner:
Triassic pterosaurs and ontogeny
Kellner (2015) has already followed reptileevolution.com in showing that all known Triassic taxa are not juveniles, but distinct genera, which Kellner named. Kellner did so without a phylogenetic analysis. In a separate email I challenged/asked Kellner to name all the nameless tiny pterosaurs of the Solnhofen, all of which nest separately in the large pterosaur tree, which you can see here.

David M. Martill, Steven U. Vidovic and Helmut Tischlinger:
A new pterodactyloid pterosaur from the Santana Formation of north east Brazil<
This is good news.

Matthew A. McLain and Robert T. Bakker:
Pterosaurs from the uppermost Morrison Formation at Como Bluff, Wyoming: A possible dsungaripterid from the Jurassic-Cretaceous transition.
This is good news.

Steven U. Vidovic:
Characterizing pterosaurs: the quality of anatomical characters in cladistic analyses
Wish I could see this. But the real problem has been taxon exclusion of the tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs.

David M. Unwin and D. C. Deeming:
Growth rates and their constraints in pterosaurs.
Hopefully they will discuss isometry in ontogeny, not the traditional false allometry.

David M. Unwin:
Non-pterodactyloid monofenestratans – rewriting the evolutionary history of
Hopefully Unwin will have rewritten what he wrote in prior papers. If not this presentation will be bogus. Darwinopterus and kin (his basal monofenestratans) represent a dead end in pterosaur evolution as documented here and here.

Charlie A. Navarro, Tom Stubbs, Liz Martin-Silverstone and Emily Rayfield:
Evolution of pterosaur  feeding systems
Wish I could see this. Hopefully they will use a valid cladogram if they are going to discuss pterosaur evolution. One can be seen here.

Rodrigo V. Pêgas and Alexander W. A. Kellner:
Preliminary mandibular myological reconstruction of Thalassodromeus sethi (Pterodactyloidea: Tapejaridae)
Wish I could see this.

Matthew A. McLain, Brad Chase and Ryan Devlin:
Addition of footprints and thin sections to the online pterosaur database PteroTerra.
Wish I could see this. A database of pterosaur tracks has been published in Peters (2011).

Shunxing Jiang, Taissa Rodrigues, Xin Cheng, Yinxia Ma, Xiaolin Wang and Alexander W. A. Kellner:
Brief report of two new specimens of Istiodactylidae (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from the Cretaceous of China
This is good news.

Unfortunately, I am not attending Flugsaurier 2015
because the climate for my interpretations and hypotheses is still stormy despite showing my work online. On the flip side, I think some of the participants and conveners are still clinging to invalid ideas, as touched on above and otherwise sprinkled throughout this blog over the past four years. Things have to change first.

Kellner AWA 2015. Comments on Triassic pterosaurs with discussion about ontogeny and description of new taxa. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências (2015) 87(2): (Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences) Printed version ISSN 0001-3765 / Online version ISSN 1678-2690.
Peters, D. 1995. Wing shape in pterosaurs. Nature 374, 315-316.
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: 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. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting, Munich 27.
Peters, D. 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141.

Back to posting soon.

My last post was a few months ago.

Not ill, on a honeymoon or in orbit.
I’ve been working on the reptile family tree, especially at the base. Better data has come along. Then one thing led to another and another and another. It’s been rewarding seeing minor problems disappear, yet frustrating as those solutions led to other minor problems at other nodes.

we’re going to have a better tree and more accurate reconstructions, some of which have already been added to reptileevolution.com. Many of these will form the basis for future posts, some mundane, some mind-blowing.

Luckily there hasn’t been much news in the paleoworld lately.  Funny how things work out sometimes.

Be back soon… Thanks for your patience and support.

Dave Peters

PterosaurHeresies.com and ReptileEvolution.com: 2012 in review

The Pterosaur Heresies blog began in July of 2011, gaining readers every month (but two) until reaching an acme in July of 2012 when it received 15,000 views. Since August the average monthly has settled back to a steady 10,000 or so for a total of 130,000 in 2012.

The sister site, reptileevolution.com, ended up with 1.2 million hits for the year (more pages to get lost in).

While many big issues were handled right off the bat in 2011, there was some excitement in 2012, too:

We looked at the purported catapult mechanism in pterosaurs.
Mecistotrachelos, the Walking Stick “Rib” Glider
Why Pterosaurs Are Extinct Today

Post-crania for a new Proterochampsa
A series on pterosaur fingers
A New Nose for Herrerasaurus – with corrections!
The Tiny origin of the Reptilia
We imagined an egg for Quetzalcoatlus

The origin of flapping
The aerodynamics of Sharovipteryx
A series on the pterosaur palate

(I’m skipping lots of good stuff here to keep it short.)

Tooth loss in turtles
Binocular vision in pterosaurs
Pterosaur take-off from water
An expose’ on purported and real female pterosaurs

How pterosaurs landed on trees (series)

Experiments breaking apart the large reptile tree
The first reconstruction of Albertonectes, an elasmosaur
A new elbow for Megalancosaurus
Growth series for Zhejianopterus – pretty much puts the nail in the coffin of allometric ontogeny in pterosaurs

The Tetrapod Zoology series of rebuttals starting here. In July, you might remember, a little PR came our way when Darren Naish decided to lash out at what he must have perceived as a scientific threat, since he warned “the world” the whole of RepitleEvolution.com should be “ignored.” Unfortunately his arguments took on the patina of propaganda when he used the work of other artists to represent my own (there are no restrictions on using my artwork, as is) and he mined the wastebasket of my discarded ideas that did not make it reptileevolution.com to characterize the present site. Very sad that such a focused mind took such a tangental approach. Very little, if any of his arguments were actually focused on the site as it is and grows to become. He found very few valid specific problems. Naish was confused that I updated an illustration, but this is the scientific process as better data comes in. Even occasional readers know that all verified errors are corrected as soon as possible, but Naish decided to blackwash the entire site rather than focus on specifics. Many of you have let me know you recognize what’s happening here, and I appreciate those notes. Others are still stuck in their untenable paradigms.

Continuing with July:
Some questionable identifications made on Bellebrunnus
The Sordes “uropatagium
A series on the characters used by Nesbitt 2011
as an underwater biped

A series of “Strange Bedfellows” recovered by Nesbitt 2011.
Sacral number and bipedalism
Evolution of gigantism in pterosaurs
Pregnant pterosaurs, putting the egg back inside
Diandongosuchus. Not a basal poposauroid. A basal phytosaur. (series)

Stenocybus series
The skinniest pterosaur
How Nyctosaurus UNSM93000 lost a wing phalanx, or two.
Partitioning the reptile tree – and getting the same topology

Two new Mesadactylus
The origin of the drepanosaurs
Bipeds at the base of the diapsida
Kyrgyzsaurus, a new flapping fenestrasaur
The Tiny Descendants of Archaeopteryx

We reconstructed Romeriscus using DGS. Now someone needs to do this again as a test.
A closer look at rib gliders and their ribs
The Zittel wing doesn’t need to be ignored
Pterosaur and therapsid foot convergence – this was strangely popular

Vjushkovia – at the base of the Rauisuchia and the Archosauria
The origin of dinosaurs, going way, way back
Ornithosuchus Experiments with Bipedalism and Develops a Heel
Tiny prehistoric birds and pterosaurs
Cutleria, another basal therapsid
And a short series on a basalmost reptile, Brouffia

Pterosaur take-off, the base of the therapsids, the myth of the batwing pterosaur, the origin of bats and a look at the horned amphibian, Diploceraspis, keep getting hits long after their original posts.

So, thank you for your interest. Thank you for your letters pointing out errors. The process of trying to come up with fascinating topics every day keeps me in the game when I might have wandered off to play golf or wax my car.

We’ll keep fighting the good fight against those who say pterosaurs are archosaurs but will never be able to provide a series of archosaurs with a gradually increasing number of ptersosaurian characters, against those who say you can’t find anything new in reptile phylogeny using a greatly expanded set of taxa, against those who say you can’t find anything new using Photoshop and DGS in roadkill fossils, against those who find no value in creating precise reconstructions, and all the other paleo topics we focus on here.

Best regards,


PS. The large reptile tree is still completely resolved at over 325 taxa, sans most basal therapsids and pterosaurs, which have their own trees.