So, you want to be a paleontologist…

Summary for those in a hurry:
Becoming a paleontologist who can support a family is difficult and rare. Up-and-comers end up supporting powerful professors. Outsiders and insiders with new ideas are sometimes ridiculed and/or ignored to silence debate and prevent upsetting the status quo.

PS (added 24 hours later). If you’re serious about paleontology, see Dr. Chris Brochu’s well-considered and insightful comments (below). Dr. Brochu agrees, disagrees and adds more data to many of the points made here.

Once you get your PhD in paleontology…
sure it’s a happy day of celebration, a great achievement invested with time and treasure. But then reality sets in as you realize you are not automatically a ‘made man‘ as in the gangster movie, “Goodfellas.”

You still need to get that first good paying job in paleontology,
and those are hard to come by. Black 2010 reports, “it is extremely difficult for researchers to find jobs and secure funding for their research. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century most paleontologists were self-funded enthusiasts who either used their family fortunes (O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, for example) or sold fossils (the Sternberg family, for example) to underwrite their work. For most paleontologists most of the time, research funding comes in the form of grants.”

Through the grapevine
I hear that anywhere from 40 to 80% of grant money goes to the university or museum that provides office space for the paleontologist. (Is that correct?).

It comes as a disappointment to many PhDs
that they end up as preparators, docents, research assistants, artists and librarians, rather than highly-paid professors making decisions, doing field work in the summer and buzzing around the world doing book tours. That jarring dose of reality comes at a time when young, former students are starting from scratch, trying to buy a house, start a family, pay off loans and hoping to make a name for themselves by publishing discovery after discovery.

Evidently it is worse for female students and scientists…
Harassment and bullying were chronicled in a recent (April 14, 2021) PBS NOVA documentary you can access here.  Some notes follow:

PAULA JOHNSON, M.PH., M.D. (President, Wellesley College): “The best estimates are about 50 percent of women faculty and staff experience sexual harassment. And those numbers have not really shifted over time. If you think about science, right now, we have a system that is built on dependence, really, singular dependence of trainees—whether they are medical students, whether they are undergraduates, or if they’re graduate students—on faculty, for their funding, for their futures. And that really sets up a dynamic that is highly problematic. It really creates an environment in which harassment can occur.”

KATHRYN CLANCY, PH.D. (Biological Anthropologist): “Generally speaking, sexual forms of sexual harassment, like come-ons, unwanted sexual advances, those are actually the rarest forms of sexual harassment. They actually don’t happen very much; mostly you see putdowns.”

One woman noted, “an invitation to have a beer with someone important interested in your poster sometimes has little or nothing to do with your poster.” It is noteworthy that the dropout rate in STEM studies is higher in women, who suffer from unequal treatment according to this documentary.

Fossils are hard to come by.
If post-grads don’t find their own fossils in the field, the fossils that come in the door are going to be distributed by the professor as they please, like a mother bird feeding hungry nestlings. (BTW, I’m talking about paleontologists who like bones. Others in the petroleum industry with a Master’s Degree make better money than a PhD in dinosaur studies because they are in greater demand.)

In the typical bell-curve of success after a doctorate,
every year or so, some few do come to international attention for their discoveries and publications. Most do not. Many struggle just to keep up an association with a university, quite aware of the fact that year after year another clade of young, eager, intelligent, well-connected future paleontologists with scholarships are coming into the professors’ view with the exact same dream and goal.

When grad students and post-docs are trying to establish themselves,
they tend to maintain relationships with universities and ally themselves with groups that huddle around and support established professors. It’s the only game in town. These 20- and 30-somethings are known to professors as ‘cheap labor’ due to an over supply of young, eager and bright hopeful students.

Older, established professors decide
who of their underlings gets funding and who goes hungry. Well-known professors bring a lot of money into universities, so universities undervalue underlings based on this value system.

New hypotheses that upset those in textbooks are not welcome.
If those ideas come from outside the tribe, someone is sent out to dismiss and dismantle that radical. Discoveries and hypotheses are welcome only if the professor is made a co-author and it doesn’t depart from the paradigm (i.e.  supporting invalid clades like ‘Ornithodira‘, ‘Avemetatarsalia’, ‘Afrotheria‘, ‘Laurasiatheria’ and ‘Cetacea‘).

Peer review was not always part of the publication process,
but it is now. Dinerstein 2017 wrote, “The controversies that have plagued peer review from its earliest days, censorship, conflict of interest, the tension between early reporting and veracity, the need to fill space, the desire for prestige and income remain with us today. They may have assumed different forms, but at their core are flaws in a system designed by flawed humans. It may not be the best system, but it is the one we use.”

According to Kampourakis et al. 2015,
“The peer review process can be one of the most subjective endeavors in the scholarly world. It should not be, and it does not have to be subjective, but it can be. Each reviewer has his/her own conceptualizations, views, experiences, and biases, which can collectively impact the stance taken toward a manuscript.”

Established authors,
who are often established professors, who are well-known to established editors, have an advantage over independent researchers. Reviewers (= referees) are typically other professors hoping to get their work favorably reviewed when their time comes. If papers support the general narrative found in textbooks, they are more likely to be published. Departures that show textbooks are in error are at a disadvantage. No one wants to weaken the power of established professors, least of all other professors who understand how to play the game.

More on manuscripts from Kampourakis et al.
“Most manuscripts are not appropriate for publication when we initially receive them. They always have limitations, which authors themselves are unable to identify—we know this from our own publication experiences. Therefore, if the editors only relied on reviewers for a decision, this would most likely be a “reject” one in the first place. Reviewers are always experts in their domains, and when their review is constructive, it provides crucial feedback to authors.”

Actually reviewers/ professors are not experts in their domain if they are teaching untenable traditions as facts. You wouldn’t think that happens, but it does.

Actually reviewers/ professors can not be experts if the subject of the manuscript is a discovery, something new, something not seen or understood before by anyone.

The issue is: will reviewers and editors recognize ‘the new order’ or will they defend ‘the old order’, the one they teach, the one that creates their monthly paycheck coming from lectures and textbooks.

Discoveries should be a cause for celebration,
if followed by confirmation after testing using methods and materials.

discoveries by outsiders encourage young PhDs (e.g Naish, Cau, Witton) to start name-calling (e.g. ‘pseudoscientist‘, ‘crank)‘. Be aware that this sort of behavior has a long history in humankind, going back at least as far as the Romans, who called non-citizens ‘barbarians’. So, if you make a discovery don’t hold your breath waiting for accolades and citations (see John Ostrom link below).

Name-calling by teachers/ professors/ colleagues is inappropriate.
Better to help colleagues with suggestions or data if genuine errors are found.

Errors are everywhere.
I just spent the weekend correcting errors in the LRT. Finding new insightful data is its own reward.

The LRT is online day and night, world-wide,
available to anyone looking for taxon list suggestions and citations. In like manner, is a source for data. It would be great if someone else were to create a parallel study to confirm, refute and compare discoveries found here. In the last ten years, no one has yet ventured forth to do this, or threatened to do this. That may be because they are stuck in the present academic world and all of its restrictions.

You should do science
because you love science.

There are only so many discoveries to be made, and fewer every year.
No PhD wants to simply confirm what someone else has already discovered. That’s not why they spent their time and treasure getting their PhDs. They want their own discoveries. When someone else makes a discovery, that’s one less out there waiting to be discovered. That’s the sort of frustration that has led to name-calling when it should have led to unemotional scientific confirmation or refutation following scientific methods and materials.

And speaking of vague insults,
the latest I’ve heard is “Your methods are flawed.” Really? No more specific instruction? No actual testing of the methods? I keep hearing, “your character list needs to be expanded.” Daily testing shows this is a myth. Experts are not always correct, as you will sooner or later find out for yourself.

Once you’ve shown and labeled
all your taxonomic data, let the software recover a cladogram in which all sister taxa actually look alike. This simple method has led to several satisfying discoveries, like ancestors for pterosaurs, snakes, whales, and turtles back to Ediacaran worms.  Make all  your .nex files available to strangers. Have the balls to tell PhDs that genetic analyses deliver false positives in deep time studies, if that’s what your studies reveal.

Your methods are flawed” comes off as a vague and baseless claim coming from an immature and insecure worker who has turned to projecting their own faults on others. Pressed for details, something real scientists are usually eager to fill an hour with, disgruntled post-grads usually retreat to social media. Funny that the ones who say, “your methods are flawed” do not repeat the same insult to their fellow PhDs when they make the same discoveries years later.

By design, the manuscript review process
usually takes months. It might take years. This is also a professional ‘brake’ on new ideas that keep the established professors behind their lecterns for as long as possible. Why would a professor return a favorable review on a paper that upsets his own hypotheses, lectures and textbooks? Professors rely on lectures and books for their salaries, royalties and status. Any manuscript that upsets the status quo is going to sit at the bottom of their growing IN pile for as long as possible, then begrudgingly returned with a ‘NO’. Cogent reasons are not required by editors.

In an ideal world
arguments should be published immediately, while the subject is still fresh in the public’s mind and before inaccurate myths get out there and spread into the world of general knowledge. Colleagues should treat each other more like co-pilots rather than saints vs. sinners.

Even if you become a tenured professor,
you are not always free to do what you want to do. “One way of getting rid of tenured professor, that’s known, is you ask the person to report on their research and you load them up with teaching and you give them a lousy office. And then eventually they’ll just quit.” Eric Weinstein on Joe Rogan #1626 3:15
Even tenured professors are steered.

The red pill and blue pill.
This is a common meme from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix. It refers to a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth, by taking the red pill, or remaining in contented ignorance with the blue pill. Over the last ten years of building the LRT I’ve come to realize when a PhD has taken the blue pill. Keep working and soon you will, too.

That’s why this blogpost exists.
Blogposts sponsored by major publications like Scientific American, are less about science and more about journalism, reporting the untested results of published papers.

Textbooks are too often used as unchangeable bibles,
instead of jumping off points for the next set of discoveries.

American physicist, Richard Feynman once said,
“As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

it has taken an outsider, someone not beholding to one professor or to the rest of the professors, to clean house. Yale paleontologist John Ostrom was an insider with an outsider idea and even he had a frustrating story to tell about how long his ideas took to come to consensus.

The video above
at 33:40 discusses the tiny (5%) number of those who train for jobs in academia actually get jobs in academia. It also discusses the large percentage (50%) of grant money that goes directly to the university. Under this system the university hires students, often foreign students, to do the teaching for low wages leaving the successful grant writers to keep writing expensive grant applications.
reports readership for my papers and manuscripts on their site has surpassed 5000 with some papers exceeding 600 reads. That’s good to hear. Just getting the information out is why anyone writes a manuscript. Nowadays everything is downloaded. If you’re not a card-carrying student or faculty member at many universities, you’re not going to be allowed in their libraries to browse the increasingly old-fashioned book shelves.

Finally, it’s up to others to approve or dismiss,
and that’s out of our control no matter if we publish fact or fancy, online or in the literature. Good luck in your career. Don’t let anything restrict your studies.

Black R 2010.
Dinerstein C 2017. The surprising history of peer review. American Council of Science and Health. online here.
Kampourakis K et al. (3 co-authors) 2015. Peer review and Darwinian selection. Science & Education 24:1055–1057.


For more PhD shenanigans, click on these links:
Padian 1 –  Padian 2 
Hone and Benton  –
Benton 1
Ezcurra 1
Cau 1

Hone 2020 reviews anurognathid pterosaurs

Here’s a new paper from Dr. DWE Hone (2020).
Quoting Hone’s own publicity sheet regarding the paper, “there’s not a huge amount to talk about here since as it’s a review, it doesn’t contain too much that’s new.”

Even so,
Hone manages to promote invalid pterosaur myths, like the pushup-takeoff (Fig. 1) and the presence of a giant eyeball in the front of the skull (Bennett 2007, Fig. 1). That was repaired here and here (Fig. 1) several years ago. The purported scleral (eyeball) ring is in fact the maxilla in the smaller flat-head SMNS 81928 specimen (Fig. 1) incorrectly referred to the genus Anurognathus (Figs. 3a, b) by Bennett 2007 and repeated by Hone 2020. Correcting the eyeball problem resulted in a traditional dimorphodontid/ anurognathid-type skull (Fig. 1 top figures) despite the skull being flatter than tall, a morphology repeated several times in later anurognathid discoveries.

Bennett presented a unique morphology
(not shared with any other pterosaur) that was copied and embraced by Witton and Hone without question. Both PhDs should have done their own scientific research instead of trusting anyone under this simple rule: “Extraordinary claims require ordinary evidence.” Yes, ordinary evidence. Just confirm or refute Bennett’s bizarre observation with your own tracing of the specimen and compare that with other similar taxa. That’s what PhDs are paid to do. To trust unique claims like Bennett 2007 without a second examination is not scientific.

Figure 1. The SMNS 81928 anurognathid specimen.

Figure 1. The SMNS 81928 anurognathid specimen, two interpretations shown slightly larger than life size. This was the first of several ‘flathead’ anurognathids to be discovered. Let’s hope the blue one can open its wings and start flapping before the eventual face plant. And how did such a take-off configuration evolve from bipedal ancestors?

In summary, Hone 2020
reviews the history of anurognathid research and renames a specimen. Hone promotes previous mistakes (Fig. 1) as valid without support from new, confirming tracings or any tracings whatsoever. Only one taxon is reconstructed (Fig. 1). No phylogenetic analysis appears. The IVPP transitional anurognathid embryo is ignored along with several other basal anurognathids (Fig. 4). Some citations are omitted (see way below). All the above shortcomings and mistakes were resolved online here and at links therein several years ago.

From the Hone 2020 Abstract:
“The anurognathids are an enigmatic and distinctive clade of small, non‐pterodactyloid pterosaurs with an unusual combination of anatomical traits in the head, neck, wings and tail.”

No. After precise tracings and phylogenetic analysis in the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 251 taxa), anurognathids are not enigmas, not all are small, the traditional clade Pterodactyloidea is invalid because it is polyphyletic (Peters 2007, LPT) and there is no reason to trust Hone’s description of the head, neck, wings and tail given his use of M Witton’s invalid illustration (Figs. 1, 2).

Compare Hone and Witton’s published anurognathids
(Figs. 1, 2) with more precise tracings (Figs. 1, 3) of the skeletal and soft-tissue elements of the Anurognathus holotype (Figs. 3a, 3b) distinct from the smaller disc-head SMNS 81928 specimen (Figs. 1, 3b), both from Solnhofen limestones.

Figure 1. From Hone 2020, illustration by M Witton of Jeholopterus. Compare to figure 2.

Figure 2. From Hone 2020, illustration by M Witton of Anurognathus, not the holotype, but the SMNS 81928 as in figure 1.

Witton and Bennett 9007 place the eyeball over the maxilla
in the large antorbital fenestra, rather than further back in the orbit, as in all other pterosaurs, over the jugal (Fig. 3a cyan), behind the lacrimal (Fig. 3a pink).

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. DGS tracing of Anurognathus ammonia. Note the placement of the lacrimals in the skull, behind the large antorbital fenestra. That is not the orbit. The small jugal (bright light blue) also indicates the placement of the small orbit in the back half of the skull, as in all other anurognathids. Also note the disappearance of the cervicals beneath the matrix. That may be an embryo by the tail. More on that tomorrow.

Figure 3a. Click to enlarge. DGS tracing of Anurognathus ammonia. Note the placement of the lacrimals in the skull, behind the large antorbital fenestra. That is not the orbit. The small jugal (bright light blue) also indicates the placement of the small orbit in the back half of the skull, as in all other anurognathids. Also note the disappearance of the cervicals beneath the matrix. That may be an embryo by the tail. More on that tomorrow.

Figure 1. The flat-head pterosaur, a private specimen (on the left) attributed by Bennett (2007) to Anurognathus ammoni (on the right).

Figure 3b. The flat-head pterosaur, a private specimen (on the left) attributed by Bennett (2007) to Anurognathus ammoni (on the right). Pedal digit 5 does not frame a membrane. Rotodactylus and other bipedal Jurassic pterosaur  tracks show how it impresses.

Hone 2020 abstract continues:
“They [anurognathids] are known from very limited remains and few have been described in detail, and as a result, much of their biology remains uncertain.

If pterosaur expert, Dr. Hone, doesn’t want to go to the effort, and wants to ignore workers who have gone to the effort years earlier (Figs. 1-4), before too long Dr. Hone will not be known as the expert he trained to be and thinks he is.

“This is despite their importance as potentially one of the earliest branches of pterosaur evolution or even lying close to the origins of pterodactyloids.

Well, which is it? Basal or transitional? A bit of effort, like creating a cladogram, would have resolved this issue. Hone has a PhD in paleontology. He should not leave things vague and unanswered. This is his passion and his job and he is not doing his job or following his passion.

“This review covers the taxonomy and palaeoecology of the anurognathids, which remain an interesting branch of pterosaurian evolution.”

Hone defined the Anurognathidae,
“as all taxa more closely related to Anurognathus than Dimorphodon, Pterodactylus or Scaphognathus.” That would include all of the taxa (and a few more recent ones) shown in figure 4. Many of these did not appear in the Hone 2020 review, which was intended to be comprehensive.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. Anurognathids to scale. The adult of the IVPP embryo is 8x the size of the embryo, as in all other tested adult/embryo pairings.

Figure 4. Click to enlarge. Anurognathids to scale. The adult of the IVPP embryo is 8x the size of the embryo, as in all other tested adult/embryo pairings.

See below for comments
on Hone’s self-published publicity statement, which summarizes his paper and arrived a few days before the PDF became available.

Bennett SC 2007. A second specimen of the pterosaur Anurognathus ammoni. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 81(4):376-398.
Hone DWE 2020. A review of the taxonomy and palaeoecology of the Anurognathidae (Reptilia, Pterosauria). Acta Geologica Sinica (English edition)

From DWE Hone’s publication announcement:
“Revising the frog-mouthed pterosaurs: the anurognathids”

Oops. This paper is not a revision. Hone 2020 is titled, “A review of the taxonomy and palaeoecology of the Anurognathidae”. A revision would revise present thinking. Hone himself notes he makes no attempt to do this. Let’s imagine Hone was thinking of the word ‘reviewing’ when he wrote the PR piece, but inserted the more exciting word ‘revising’ by accident.

“The anurognathids are a wonderful group of small non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs known from Europe and various parts of Asia that are perhaps the most distinctive of the early pterosaur groups and probably the latest survivors.

According to the large pterosaur tree (LPT) and simple logic, several clades of Middle and Late Jurassic pterosaurs gave rise to four pterodactyloid-grade clades, some of which extended to the last day of the Cretaceous. You don’t get Cretaceous pterosaurs without Jurassic and Triassic ancestors. Anurognathids also invaded North and South America, according to phylogenetic analysis and footprints.

“They had bizarrely short and broad skulls made of tiny spars of bone and with few teeth and remarkably short tails for non-pterodactyloids. They were mostly small and are interpreted as having been hawking for insect prey on the wing. There are few specimens (even with the recent discoveries) that are hard to tell apart because they are all so similar and yet almost every different specimen has been named as a new species.”

Hone puts no effort (no tracings, a single borrowed reconstruction, no original cladograms) into understanding, reconstructing, modeling, lumping and splitting the several known anurognathid specimens. As in prior studies, Hone stands back when scientific work is required. Hone’s writing is only in service and support to his traditional bias. He avoided citing several peer-reviewed studies that included other anurognathid materials (see below). Bottom line: Hone is supposed to be a scientist, not a journalist. He should be shedding new light on anurognathids, resolving the enigmas, not repeating what others have already published. That’s what journalists do.

“So they are both really unusual and not very well known and that means even if this has taken time to come to fruition, a review of them would be rather handy. And so as you might imagine, this post coincides with a new paper doing exactly that. Somewhat inevitably there’s not a huge amount to talk about here since as it’s a review, it doesn’t contain too much that’s new – the primary role is to bring things together and synthesise them so most of what is there is already known (at least to people who keep up with the pterosaur literature). Reading the review will bring you up speed if you want all the basics, but I do want to talk here about a couple of the more interesting things I have added.”

“The first one is the validity of the various taxa. It’s hardly unknown for pterosaur clades to be made up of lots of species each represented by only a single specimen but the anurognathids are pushing even that. While I can’t immediately think of any calls for synonymy of any taxa, the fact that so few specimens have been described in detail and the poor quality of the preservation of many means that the available lists of diagnoses have been pretty weak to date.

In counterpoint, detailed tracings and reconstructions have been online for every known anurognathid (Fig. 4) for several years. Hone omitted several of these taxa. A cladogram would have helped him separate in-groups from out-groups.

“They are not much better now, but I have at least revised and updated the diagnosis of every taxon. There are two consequences of this that are important. First off, all the current taxa seem valid, and moreover, some of the recently illustrated, but not yet named, specimens also look like they are distinct taxa and there’s probably several new names needed. Secondly, the second species of Dendrorhynchoides, D. mutodongensis is as distinct, if not more so, than many other anurognathid genera and as such needs to be elevated to the genus level… I erected the new genus Luopterus to house the species.

That’s a good name for a specimen needing a new generic name. Well done, Dave!

“Next up, the variation in the different species is quite odd. Anurognathids are weirdly conservative, even compared to other pterosaur groups and while the poor preservation of the specimens hasn’t helped up find distinguishing traits between them, once you sit down and really look it’s hard to find the kinds of traits that you might normally use to separate out genera and species.”

Seeking traits to separate specimens is “Pulling a Larry Martin“. Don’t do that. It leads to madness due to convergence, or, in this case, backing away from what must be done: a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis with all the anurognathid taxa and parts thereof laid out, lumped and separated.

“That said, there are some bits of variation which while commented on before are quite notable in this context (and there is more coming on this in a future paper that I’m involved in). The length of the tail is really variable and while these are as a whole short-tailed (even the longest of them is much shorter than other non-pterodactyloids) there is really quite some difference between the longest and the shortest. I don’t know what this means but it’s an area worthy of greater attention.

Unfortunately, Hone only crudely illustrates the variety found in anurognathid humerus shapes, but omits doing the same for the tails, or any other body parts, especially the skulls. If an amateur can do it (Figs. 1–4), a paid professional and a PhD should be able to do it that much better.

“Similarly, the smaller anurognathids tend to have extraordinarily large heads and the larger ones rather small ones.

This needed to be illustrated and documented. Reconstructions (see Fig. 4) do not reflect and confirm Hone’s observation.

“There could be ontogentic effects here since many of the smaller specimens are juveniles but it stands in contrast with the more general isometry of other pterosaurs, and could be linked to prey sizes or even eye size. If they are, any [sic] many people suspect, nocturnal then juveniles need huge heads to house huge eyes.”

Hone is correct with regard to pterosaur isometry, so why then does he label some pterosaurs ‘juveniles’, rather than small adults of distinct genera? The huge eyes guess is easily resolved by tracing each specimen and locating the eyes, none of which are ‘huge”, with the exceptions of Batrachognathus (Fig. 5) having the most owl-like eyes and most binocular. Even so, those eyes remain in the back half of the skull, as in ALL other pterosaurs.

Dorsal and lateral views of three anurognathid pterosaurs.

Figure 5. Dorsal and lateral views of three anurognathid pterosaurs. From left to right, Dendrorhynchoides, Batrachognathus and Jeholopterus, all crushed dorsoventrally, due to the skull’s greater width.

Hone continues
“Finally, there is the issue of the ‘folded’ wings. While some disarticulation can occur in decaying pterosaurs unless the specimen has disintegrated the various bones of the wing finger stay together. Presumably they are held together by numerous strong ligaments or they would not be able to hold up the forces of flight. It’s a very derived condition since of course all other archosaurs (indeed tetrapods generally) can flex their fingers.

Pterosaurs are not archosaurs. This is yet another myth Hone promotes without citing competing studies. He tried to do so once, but choked on the attempt, kowtowing to the agenda of his professor and mentor, Mike Benton. Hone has not been under the influence of Benton for over a decade, so he should show a little independence now. As a PhD pterosaur expert, knowing what a pterosaur is… that is his job and he is not doing his job. More on the wing issue below.

Anurognathids however, despite having some exquisitely preserved specimens, and nearly all of them being basically articulated, show the joints of the wing finger being flexed. This suggests that they are doing something really rather different with their wings, when flying or even when on the ground.

Not at all. The small size of most anurognathids means the wing finger did not need to be as robust as in the larger clades. That alone could account for the flexion seen in many anurognathid wing phalanges (Figs. 4, 6). There’s also taphonomy. And speaking of wings, no pterosaur fossil shows the wing membrane extending down the thigh to the ankle, as shown in the Witton illustrations (Figs. 1, 2).

Tracing of Jeholopterus using DGS.

Figure 6. Click to enlarge. Tracing of Jeholopterus using DGS. Dorsal view of Jeholopterus based on the tracing. Lower left images include an unidentified pair of semi-circles too large to be embryo upper temporal fenestrae (that was the first guess). The tail is not particularly short when stretched to its full length, despite the reduced length of the individual caudals. The red ellipse represents a hypothetical egg shape. The abdomen was not so wide. The ribs would have had a ventral component and direction, which they do not have here. Note the right angle femoral head, ideal for parasagittal locomotion, like a dinosaur.

“One thing to note is that this is also seen in one other set of pterosaur specimens – embryos. That implies that either anurognathids have inherited this trait from their ancestors (if they are, as some suggest, the first branching group of pterosaurs) or have secondarily acquired what is essentially a paedomorphic trait of wing flexion.”

If Hone had produced a valid cladogram, like the LPT, he would have been able to find a solution to his own problem. See figure 4 for a quick graphic review.

“I’ll leave it there for now. There’s plenty more in the paper that you can read and there is obviously more research to come (indeed I’m working on another anurognathid paper that’s come about in part through this work) so don’t want to go over this in detail when it’s already a review. Hopefully this does sort out a few issues and pave the way for a better understanding of these most interesting of pterosaurs.”

In counterpoint, and allowing for a little verbal showmanship on Hone’s part (e.g. using “revising” instead of “reviewing” in his PR ), all pterosaurs should be equally interesting because taxon omission by PhDs is a traditional sin. Granted, Hone is infatuated with anurognathids, like the proud father of any new paper generally should be. Unfortunately, because this paper is already in print, it is now too late to give it the care and attention it should have had when still in his mind and on his monitor.

David Hone is still a young man.
I hope that someday he will see the light, crawl out of Benton’s shadow, do the work he is paid to do, stop hiding behind taxon and citation omission, and ultimately become the pterosaur expert he trained to be.

Papers and abstracts omitted by Hone 2020
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 (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 2003. The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures. ournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 23(3):87.
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.
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.

See a pattern here?
Kids, if you want to get cited, get your PhD and go with the traditional bias and flow. Be willing to ignore competing citations if they come from outsiders who are willing to do the work and go the extra mile without getting paid [heavy on the sarcasm here, for those who are thinking about quote-mining this paragraph].

If you ever get ‘beaten up’ by a gang of paleontologists…

It happened over the past several months
to Xing et al. 2020 after they published in Nature on their hummingbird-sized ‘dinosaur’ in amber, Oculudentavis. Then, oops! Everyone else recognized the specimen as a lepidosaur. Last week Nature and the publicly-shamed authors retracted the paper with a fair amount of bad press.

Meanwhile, on a more personal note…
imagine examining fossils across the ocean without a science degree and ‘discovering’ four overlooked ancestors to pterosaurs (Peters 2000; Fig. 2). None had been identified before and no others have been identified since. Actually these pre-pterosaurs were recovered by adding their data to four previously published phylogenetic analyses, not by finding fossils in the field. Unfortunately (and this is true), for the next twenty years that paper, that discovery and several that followed (Peters 2002, 2007, 2009) were never cited in a supportive sense. Instead these peer-reviewed papers were shunned and ignored.

Worse yet,
imagine a gathering of PhDs rising against you online. Some call you a ‘hack’ even though you followed all the rules and did all the work with the proper citations, acknowledgements and peer review. When one studies specimens and writes papers, the furthest thing on your mind is a future with online shaming from the cancel culture.

Figure 1. Scene from Animal House when Otter walks in with roses for his hotel rendezvous, only to meet the frat boys ready to teach him a lesson.

Figure 1. Scene from Animal House after Otter walks into a hotel room with roses for his rendezvous, only to meet the five frat boys ready to deliver a little punishment.

All is not lost. Patience is the watchword here.
No one else can ‘discover’ these interrelationships (Fig. 2). They are time-stamped in the academic literature. Perhaps the best thing one can realize is: the enmity coming from other scientists turns out to be a relatively common phenomenon.

The question is:
why do some scientists demonize and shun discoverers?

The lineage of pterosaurs recovered from the large reptile tree. Huehuecuetzpalli. Cosesaurus. Longisquama. MPUM 6009.

Figure 2. The lineage of pterosaurs recovered in Peters 2000 and from the large reptile tree. Huehuecuetzpalli. Cosesaurus. Longisquama and MPUM 6009 (Bergamodactylus).

Author Jon Ronson
on the Joe Rogan Experience #668, discusses his book, ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed.’ Here he takes the antagonists’ point-of-view:

“We will reduce somebody to a label. We’ll reduce somebody to the worst tweet that they ever wrote. We’ll demonize them and then we’ll de-humanize them, because we’ve just destroyed somebody and we don’t want to feel bad about destroying them so we call them ‘sociopath’ or something.”

“It’s a whole mental trick we play on ourselves. Like, cognitive dissonance. We’re good people, but we just destroyed somebody. So how do we make sense of that?”

“So it’s all about labeling and reducing and demonizing people we don’t like.”

Then Joe Rogan pipes in:
“And it’s also an excuse to be a real asshole. Like all you have to do is find a reason to unleash your fury on people. And it’s a free shot.”

Whenever someone calls you a ‘hack’,
try to see things from their point-of-view. Do they have a point? Is there something you have to do to ‘clean up your act?’ If so, then clean up your act. Do more than is expected. Add taxa. Trace details. Show your work. Double check your results for errors. Write to experts for their advice (but be wary if they try to send you snipe hunting). After you’ve done all that, all to no avail, then consider the following…

Sometimes personal attacks are the result of unfulfilled expectations.
After all, some paleontologists spend a lot of money and many years getting a PhD only to find out professorial jobs are as rare as bird teeth. Discoveries are even harder to come by, whether in the field or by fossils occasionally sent to them.

So, it’s no wonder PhDs are pissed off
when a nobody from a small town in middle America starts harvesting the literature, adding taxa to a growing online vertebrate cladogram and making discoveries several times a week. That cladogram, the core of, now exceeds in size and breadth any vertebrate study ever published (samples from 1700+ fish to humans are included). New insights were recovered just by testing taxa together that have never been tested together before (like pterosaurs and lepidosaurs, Fig. 2).

The unfortunate fact is: the list of discoveries waiting to be discovered 
is limited and it gets shorter everyday. Today’s young paleontologists earned their PhDs in order to make those rare discoveries. So, imagine their wrath when an unschooled outsider showed them their expensive and time-consuming education was not really necessary, at least at this stage in paleontology. What was necessary was a comprehensive review of the literature and a single wide gamut test to reveal where taxon exclusion had resulted in traditional false positive results.

Getting back to Animal House for a moment…
Otter thought he was going to get a little romance the night he opened the door to a motel room, with the cheerful line, “It’s “Mr. Thoughtful” with a dozen roses for… you…” only to be met by a cadre of frat boys ready to pummel him (Fig. 1). Likewise, twenty years ago when I recovered four pterosaur ancestors, I thought good things would follow. Alas, that still has not happened. Nothing but ostracizing and enmity has followed.

Sadly, some of the things you learn in paleontology
are not found in textbooks. One is the extremely slow pace of acceptance in this field.

Remember it took paleontologists 150 years
to elevate the tails of tail-dragging dinosaurs and to realize birds were dinosaurs. It will take them more than twenty years to realize pterosaurs were lepidosaurs. Unlike other sciences, paleontological discoveries and recoveries, especially from outsiders, are not welcome.

So, if you make a discovery, take your punishment cheerfully
and maintain your scientific work ethic. Be patient. If you play it straight, and put the work in, you already know how this movie is going to end. Starting off, your only allies will come out of the ‘Delta House‘ fraternity, but soon you’ll have the whole audience on your side.

Good luck on your scientific journey.
Rest assured that others have been through whatever you’re going through now.

Hope this
‘futile and stupid gesture’ helps.

It’s no wonder that some workers thought Oculudentavis was a bird, while others thought it was a lepidosaur. After testing all known candidates, it turns out Oculudentavis was a late-surviving sister to Cosesaurus (Fig. 2), which was originally and mistakenly considered a Middle Triassic bird ancestor (Ellenberger and DeVillalta 1974). Later Peters (2000, 2007) recovered Cosesaurus as a lepidosaur and a flapping pterosaur ancestor. So, these related taxa tell the same story.

All this confusion over Oculudentavis could have been avoided
if the pterosaur community had not shunned and shamed the results of Peters 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009. Due to that suppression the bird-like lepidosaur, Cosesaurus, was not on the radar of Xing et al. and it was not tested to ascertain relationships.

And that’s how the ripples radiate.

Rarely to never cited references:
Ellenberger P and de Villalta JF 1974. Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne). Note preliminaire. Acta Geologica Hispanica 9, 162-168.
Peters D 2000. 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.
Xing L, O’Connor JK,; Schmitz L, Chiappe LM, McKellar RC, Yi Q and Li G 2020. Hummingbird-sized dinosaur from the Cretaceous period of Myanmar. Nature. 579 (7798): 245–249.


Advice for would be paleontologists: stay professional!

A Blind Eye Toward Pterosaur Origins

Rachel Carson and Marie Tharp

John Ostrom: The man who saved dinosaurs

Let’s open up an old can of worms

And finally this carbon copy reply to a recent (2020) TetZoo blogpost
by PhD Darren Naish, doubling down on his earlier (2012) blogpost, “Why the World Has to Ignore“. This was followed by a long list of comments by a cadre of angry paleontologists.

“Well, fellas, that’s a lot to drink in. Thank you for all the attention. is an online experiment in which I learn as I go. Just like a professional. True, I made over 100,000 errors in scoring or drawing over the last nine years. In understand in science that’s part of the process.

A few points worth considering:

Taxon exclusion is the issue I bring up over and over again. Just add pertinent taxa, score correctly and see what PAUP delivers. Shouldn’t be too hard. Add some placoderms to some catfish taxa. Add some caseasaurs to millerettids. And show your work.

Cau’s study on pterosaurs arising from Scleromochlus (a basal bipedal crocodylomorph) seems odd given that the hand is so small in Scleromochlus and the foot lacks a long toe 5, etc. etc. No illustrations accompany the cladogram, so we don’t know what characters were correctly or incorrectly scored for Sharovipteryx and Cosesaurus. I show my work. Ellenberger thought Cosesaurus was a Middle Triassic bird ancestor and I could not convince him otherwise. So whatever the problem is, it’s common and I’m used to it.

Yi qi: seriously? Please send data on both ulnae, both radii and the both styliforms. I will make the change to create the flying dragon if you can show valid data. Ball is now in your court.

Some hits later ‘discovered’ by others:

Figure 3. Darren Naish did not like the more precise tracing made by yours truly. He though I was seeing things. The tracing at upper left is the original published tracing by the fossil describers.

Hey, Darren, what’s wrong with that tracing of Jeholopterus skull? (Fig. 3) I provided a competing tracing (upper left hand corner). Is that all you got? After 17 years mine is still accurate and all the parts fit together in appropriate patterns. Bennett’s anurognathid skull, which you prefer, mistook a maxilla for a giant scleral ring. But the right giant scleral ring was never found. Nor were any giant scleral rings ever found on any other anurognathids. Let me know if and when you find one.

Figure 1. Chicken skull (Gallus gallus) with fused and semi-fused skull bones colorized. Postorbital = orange. Squamosal = tan. Lacrimal = brown. Prefrontal = purple. Quadrate = red.

Figure 4. Chicken skull (Gallus gallus) with fused and semi-fused skull bones colorized. Postorbital = orange. Squamosal = tan. Lacrimal = brown. Prefrontal = purple. Quadrate = red. No one else has ever attempted to do something similar.

re: that chicken skull colored photo {FIig 4}: please provide a competing image that shows what a ‘real’ chicken skull is all about. I’d like to know where the errors are so I can fix them. I prefer to use rather than create.

re: genomics vs. phenomics. Didn’t the taxon list in Afrotheria cause you to wonder, even a little bit? Gene studies produce false positives over deep time. You can test it yourself. If an amateur can do it, so can you.

If I forgot to address a favorite criticism, let me know. You guys provided a long list. At present, it’s better to be brief and to the point.

The large reptile tree (1712+ taxa) plus the pterosaur tree and therapsid skull tree all produce cladograms that recover sister taxa that actually look like each other (not like pterosaurs arising from Scleromochlus). All three are constantly being updated as I find errors. The LRT demonstrates you can lump and split 1712 taxa using only 230 multistage characters. That’s a fact. More taxa are more important than more characters. That’s a fact.

This is something the paleo community has asked for. But the order of taxa is not what you asked for. Where is the competing study? If you’ve been sitting on your hands and/or writing to Darren Naish, you’ve been wasting your time. Do what you are paid to do. Or wait until you retire and have gobs of time, like me. — David Peters”









From Berkeley: pterosaur origins and whale evograms

Professor Kevin Padian (U of California, Berkeley)
has been a champion for evolution over the past several decades. In the 1980s I became acquainted with him when he was the science expert for my first book, Giants.

The following one hour video on YouTube caught my eye.
Professor Padian brilliantly discusses how school districts dealt with invading Creationists. Padian has been leading the charge on many fronts regarding evolution. Unfortunately, he has stayed in his tent sipping tea regarding the origin of flight in pterosaurs (Padian 1985), and the origin of whales, as you’ll see below.


From the page on pterosaur flight:
“Pterosaurs are thought to be derived from a bipedal, cursorial (running) archosaur similar to Scleromochlus in the late Triassic period (about 225 million years ago). Other phylogenetic hypotheses have been proposed, but not in the context of flight origins. The early history of pterosaurs is not yet fully understood because of their poor fossil record in the Triassic period. We can infer that the origin of flight in pterosaurs fits the “ground up” evolutionary scenario, supported by the fact that pterosaurs had no evident arboreal adaptations. Some researchers have proposed that the first pterosaurs were bipedal or quadrupedal arboreal gliders, but these hypotheses do not incorporate a robust phylogenetic and functional basis. The issue is not yet closed.”

This comes 20 years after Langobardisaurus, Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama (Fig. 1) were added to four previously published phylogenetic analyses and all nested closer to pterosaurs than any tested archosaur (Peters 2000). Aspects of this topic were reviewed here in 2011 and here in 2015.

pterosaur wings

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. The origin of the pterosaur wing from Huehuecuetzpalli (B) to Cosesaurus (C) to Sharovipteryx (D) to Longisquama (E) to the basal pterosaur, Bergamodactylus (F and G).

The same webpage notes:
“Pterosaurs also had a bone unique to their clade. It is called the pteroid bone, and it pointed from the pterosaur’s wrist towards the shoulder, supporting part of the wing membrane. Such a novel structure is rare among vertebrates, and noteworthy; new bones are unusual structures to evolve — evolution usually co-opts bones from old functions and structures to new functions and structures rather than “reinventing the wheel.”

This comes 11 years after Peters 2009 showed the pteroid was not unique, but a centralia that had migratred medially in Cosesaurus (like the panda’s ‘thumb’). Likewise, the not-so-unique pteroid was co-opted from old functions, contra the Berkeley evolution page.

The same webpage notes:
“Pterosaurs had other morphological adaptations for flight, such as a keeled sternum for the attachment of flight muscles, a short and stout humerus (the first arm bone), and hollow but strong limb and skull bones.”

We’ve known since Wild 1993 that what Padian 1985 called a keeled sternum is actually a sternal complex composed of a fused interclavicle + clavicle + single lepidosaur sternum (Fig. 3) after migration over the interclavicle.

Tritosaur pectoral girdles demonstrating the evolution and migration of the sternal elements to produce a sternal complex.

Figure 3. Tritosaur pectoral girdles demonstrating the evolution and migration of the sternal elements to produce a sternal complex.

25 years ago, when I first met Kevin Padian and Chris Bennett, they both impressed upon me, at the same time and during a single conversation, the need for a proper phylogenetic context before making any sort of paleontological hypothesis. That’s when MacClade and PAUP were still ‘newish’. That’s why you might find it ironic that neither Padian nor Bennett have ever tested the addition of the four key taxa in figure 3 to prior published analyses that included pterosaurs, as I did in Peters 2000.

On the second topic of whale evolution:
Padian’s ‘evogram’ (evolution diagram) simply lacks a few key taxa. Odontocetes don’t arise from hippos. Only mysticetes do. Here (Fig. 4) a few missing transitional taxa are added to the existing evogram. Likewise the outgroup for Pakicetus and Indohyus now include overlooked tenrecs and leptictids. They look more like Indohyus than the hippo because microevolution becomes more apparent when pertinent taxa are added. Otherwise it’s a big morphological jump from hippos to Indohyus. Adding taxa makes ‘the jump’ much smaller as the LRT has demonstrated dozens of times. No one should be afraid to simply add taxa.

Figure w. Whale evogram from Berkeley website and what happens when you add taxa based on the LRT.

Figure 4. Whale evogram from Berkeley website and what happens when you add taxa based on the LRT. Two frames change every 5 seconds. It’s not good that the outgroup to the slender Indohyus is the massive Hippopotamus. Frame two repairs that inconsistency with a little microevolution.

As you can see,
the University of California at Berkeley no longer stands at the vanguard of paleontology. Rather it has been promoting traditional myths on its website for the last twenty years.

According to Padian’s online talk (above):
“Just because you have  a degree in science does not mean you’re a scientist. Scientists are people who do research, publish peer-reviewed research as a main part of their living.”

That’s good to know. Of course, it doesn’t help if one suffers from the curse of Cassandra. On that point, I’m not asking anyone to ‘believe the LRT’, but to simply add taxa to your own favorite cladograms, as Peters 2000 did to four different previously published studies that each had their own taxon and character lists. That’s what the large reptile tree has continued to do over the last 9 years. Others who have added taxa and recovered results confirming those recovered by the LRT are listed here. The pair of PhDs who decided those results should be erased are listed here.

Ingroup scientists who attempt to exclude outgroup scientists is a common thread in human history. Here’s a YouTube video trailer for an upcoming Marie Curie biography. I’m sure you all know the story of her pioneering work in radioactive elements.

Padian K 1985. The origins and aerodynamics of flight in extinct vertebrates. Palaeontology 28(3):413–433.
Peters D 1989. Giants of Land, Sea and Air — Past and Present. Alfred A. Knopf/Sierra Club Books
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 2009.
A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs.
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-133.
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.

Where do we stand on the origin of pterosaurs today?

For most of the last 200 years,
all hypotheses of tetrapod interrelationships had to await novel and random discoveries as the number of known fossil taxa slowly accumulated over time. Expertise, persistence, access to the literature, access to fossil-bearing localities, teamwork and luck all played equal parts in helping this list to grow.

Nowadays in 2020,
we’re sitting on top of two centuries of discoveries preserved in museums, private collections and the literature. So figuring out the ancestors and sisters of any genus no longer depends on access to fossil-bearing localities, luck or teamwork. With persistence and access to the literature anyone can assemble a large taxon list, couple it with a large trait list, and recover a cladogram of tetrapod interrelationships using available software. Larger taxon lists are better because that minimize taxon exclusion, the number one problem with smaller studies.

Figure 3. The origin of pterosaurs now includes Kyrgyzsaurus, nesting between Cosesaurus and Sharovipteryx.

Figure 1. The origin of pterosaurs now includes Kyrgyzsaurus, nesting between Cosesaurus and Sharovipteryx.

Back in 2011
PterosaurHeresies started with a 3-part review of pterosaur origins here, here and culminating here.  Peters 2000a, 2000b, 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011 (plus a suppressed manuscript correcting earlier errors at, solved the problem of pterosaur origins and wing genesis. No new discoveries were required. Taxon inclusion neatly resolved the problem. That’s all it took… adding previously omitted taxa.

even in the present era of phylogenetic analysis by software (~1990 to the present), many pterosaur ‘experts’ continue to shrug their shoulders when the subject of pterosaur origins comes up (examples below). And they don’t really care about the genesis of pterosaurs either. If they did care, they would be running analyses that recover last common ancestors.

Ignoring the literature,
the PhDs are all still waiting for the discovery of an imaginary archosaur with a long fourth finger and a long fifth toe. For reasons unknown, the experts are overlooking the fact that archosaurs don’t have a long fourth finger or a long fifth toe. Even so, this ‘waiting for specimens’ tradition continues unabated in professional circles. Instead they should be looking for the last common ancestor of pterosaurs and its relatives among known fossil and extant taxa. Look here for an example cladogram that covers such a wide gamut of taxa that taxon exclusion is minimized: the large reptile tree (LRT, 1697+ taxa).

The imaginary dinosaur-pterosaur connection
is taught at all paleo universities. It is found in all college textbooks and popular books written by PhDs. It is repeated over and over in YouTube videos (see below). If you’re a paleo student and you want a passing grade, you have to give that answer to the professor, class after class, decade after decade, perpetuating the myth.

Given that the solution to pterosaur origins
has been in the peer-reviewed literature for the last 20 years, it’s almost comical how pterosaur workers dance around the question, “Where do pterosaurs come from?”.

“We don’t know,” is the most common answer.
The 20-year-old published hypothesis of pterosaur origins (Fig. 1, Peters 2000) continues to be ignored. That hypothesis was first labeled, “heterodox“(= different). Other PhDs (e.g. Mark Witton) labeled the author a crank. Still other PhDs (e.g. Darren Naish) attempted to divert the world away from solutions published online.

The more interesting quandary, however,
is the continuing predicament the PhDs have gotten themselves into and how it will continue indefinitely. Apparently there is just no way pterosaur workers are ever going to admit that an outsider solved the problem of pterosaur origins using the most common tool of the trade, phylogenetic analysis.

Apparently there is just no way any PhD or grad student is going to observe the specimens and repeat every aspect of the experiment that resulted in the 2000 solution to pterosaur origins. No one wants to be the second person to discover something, especially after it has been attacked from all sides or ignored for the last twenty years. Any move PhDs make now will make them all look bad. Not making any move also makes them look bad. They have a job to do. They should do it.

Pterosaur workers continue to ignore the pertinent taxa and omit the pertinent citations in favor of a myth (that pteros are dino cousins), even though they also loudly confess they have no evidence for support of that hypothesis. Often phytosaurs show up just outside the Pterosauria when fenestrasaurs are omitted or poorly scored.

In the following short video from 2009
watch German pterosaur experts Gunther Viohl and Peter Wellnhofer undercut previously published studies on pterosaur origins by remarking, the ancestors are not known” and “in fact, it is a mystery which group of reptiles prior to the Triassic, might have given rise to the pterosaurs. So we don’t actually have the ancestor to the pterosaurs in the fossil record.”

The delighted Creationist narrator is then free to claim,
“No transitional forms have been found showing a ground lizard slowly changing into a flying reptile. There are no fossils of a ground reptile with partially developed wings. All of the known pterosaur fossils are perfectly developed.”

we do know of several ground lizards slowly changing into a flying reptile (Figs. 1, 2). They were re-described by Peters 2000 (see for additions and corrections).

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. The origin of the pterosaur wing and the migration of the pteroid and preaxial carpal. A. Sphenodon. B. Huehuecuetzpalli. C. Cosesaurus. D. Sharovipteryx. E. Longisquama. F-H. The Milan specimen MPUM 6009, a basal pterosaur.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. The origin of the pterosaur wing and the migration of the pteroid and preaxial carpal. A. Sphenodon. B. Huehuecuetzpalli. C. Cosesaurus. D. Sharovipteryx. E. Longisquama. F-H. Bergamodactylus, MPUM 6009, a basal pterosaur.

Hone and Benton 2007, 2008 had high hopes
when they decided to test the results of Peters 2000 (Cosesaurus and kin as pterosaur ancestors) against the results of Bennett 1996 (Scleromochlus as a pterosaur ancestor). In their two-part paper Hone and Benton used the Supertree Method. It joins previously published cladograms, trusting their accuracy without observing specimens firsthand. Dr. Benton may have been waiting for a student interested in pterosaurs for several years because Benton 1999 agreed with Bennett 1996 in suggesting Scleromochlus was a pterosaur ancestor. Both ignored the fact that Scleromochlus had vestiges for finger 4 and toe 5, among dozens of other invalidating traits. Peters 2000 introduced better candidates and showed both PhDs were wrong by testing more taxa in four separate phylogenetic analyses based on prior studies, including Benton 1999 and Bennnett 1996.

Problems arose for Hone and Benton when their supertree results recovered Cosesaurus and kin as pterosaur ancestors. Rejecting this result, Hone and Benton dropped all data and reference to Peters 2000 and gave Bennett 1996 credit for coming up with both competing views. They had the bullocks to ignore the premise of their experiment, perhaps thinking their status as PhDs would save them. So far it has. Most of the rest of the paleo community has silently witnessed this odd turn of events without raising an objection or pointing a finger. Only Bennett 2012, 2013 reported the mistakes reported by Hone and Benton were of their own doing. Even so, Bennett 2012, 2013 continued to ignore taxa proposed by Peters 2000. Strange. Why put blinders on?

David Hone at his blogsite
ArchosaurMusings reports, “To cut a long story short, pterosaurs are damned difficult to place in the reptile tree. The truth of the matter is that currently the best supported hypothesis is that pterosaurs derived from the dinosauromorphs and thus are very close relatives of the dinosaurs.” Actually it’s not ‘damn difficult’. It simply takes more taxa. By the way, ‘the best supported hypothesis’ is not the best supported hypothesis. Rather it’s the one they teach at university, the one that omits Peters 2000.

The American Museum of Natural History
is likewise culpable. In the following video watch pterosaur expert, Alex Kellner, and Museum Director, Mark Norell, tell you pterosaurs are dinosaur relatives. But you’ll never see evidence of that because they don’t have it. It’s a traditional myth they cling to due to peer group pressure, not science.

Venerable PBS
became a frenemy of pterosaurs with the following video that omits the actual evolution of wings in favor of the traditional myth. Sadly, the promise of the headline is not fulfilled in the video.

Likewise, in the ‘It’s Okay to Be Smart’ video
Mike Habib perpetuates the archosaur origin myth. He also promotes an invalid, impossible and dangerous quad-catapult take-off technique (Fig. 3) rather than leaping and flapping at the same time for maximum thrust from the first nanosecond (Fig. 4) as birds do. He also promotes the invalid hypothesis of giant pterosaur flight.

Unsuccessul Pteranodon wing launch based on Habib (2008).

Figure 3. Unsuccessful Pteranodon wing launch based on Habib (2008) in which the initial propulsion was not enough to permit wing unfolding and the first downstroke.

Successful heretical bird-style Pteranodon wing launch

Figure 4. Successful bird-style Pteranodon wing launch in which the already upraised wing provides the necessary thrust for takeoff from moment one. This assumes a standing start and not a running start in the manner of lizards and some birds. Note three wing beats take place in the same space and time that only one wing beat takes place in the hazardous Habib model (Fig. 3).

Good scientists observe and report.
Then other good scientists repeat the experiment again and again to make sure the hypothesis is correct, rectifying errors as they appear. Sadly, that’s not what we observe among pterosaur workers.

Taxon exclusion is a powerful tool.
Some of you might remember when I was able to nest pterosaurs with turtles by taxon exclusion and again retested when more taxa were present. False positives are possible when using small taxon lists.

I never imagined
pterosaur workers would end up avoiding and suppressing a valid hypothesis in favor of a myth they admit they cannot support with evidence. Twenty years later there are still no competing papers on pterosaur origins that include accurate scoring for taxa in the Fenestrasauria and Tritosauria. This could still be a hot topic, but, no one is interested in finding out how pterosaurs got their wings anymore. Their preferred answer continues to be, “We don’t know.” The unspoken takeaway is,”and we’re not even going to try to find out because the status quo has been working for us.

Bennett SC 2008. Morphological evolution of the forelimb of pterosaurs: myology and function. Pp. 127–141 in E Buffetaut and DWE Hone eds., Flugsaurier: pterosaur papers in honour of Peter Wellnhofer. Zitteliana, B28.
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
Bennett SC 2012. The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha re-examined. Historical Biology. iFirst article, 2012, 1–19.
Bennett SC 2013. The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha re-examined. Historical Biology 25(5-6): 545-563.
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
Habib M 2008. Comparative evidence for quadrupedal launch in pterosaurs. Pp. 161-168 in Buffetaut E, and DWE Hone, eds. Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting: Zitteliana B28
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.
Mazin J-M, Billon-Bruyat J-P and Padian K 2009. First record of a pterosaur landing trackway. Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1161 online paper
Padian K. 1984. The Origin of Pterosaurs. Proceedings, Third Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems, Tubingen 1984. Online pdf
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. Hist Bio 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
Prondvai E and Hone DWE 2009. New models for the wing extension in pterosaurs. Historical Biology DOI: 10.1080/08912960902859334
Senter P 2003. Taxon Sampling Artifacts and the Phylogenetic Position of Aves. PhD dissertation. Northern Illinois University, 1-279.
Sereno PC 1991. Basal archosaurs: phylogenetic relationships and functional implications. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 11 (Supplement) Memoire 2: 1–53.
Sharov AG 1971. New flying reptiles fro the Mesozoic of Kazakhstan and Kirghizia. Trudy of the Paleontological Institute, Akademia Nauk, USSR, Moscow, 130: 104–113 [in Russian].
Unwin DM and Bakhurina NN 1994. Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature 371: 62-64.
Woodward AS 1907. On a new dinosaurian reptile (Scleromochlus taylori, gen. et sp. nov.) from the Trias of Lossiemouth, Elgin. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 1907 63:140-144.

2013 Mother Jones article on why humans find evolution hard to accept brought us a ‘think-piece’ back in 2013
about the creationists battle with evolution on the occasion of a book publication (see below). Article author, Chris Mooney, summarized, “Our brains are a stunning product of evolution; and yet ironically, they may naturally pre-dispose us against its acceptance.” The title of the article (click to view) is “7 reasons why it’s easier for humans to believe in God than evolution.”

To that I will add:
sometimes evolutionists find it hard to accept new ideas from other evolutionists. And this, too, is human nature, yet another product of natural selection. And yes, I’m pointing my fin-turned-finger at you, Vertebrate Palaeontology Researcher in Residence, Darren Naish, who will someday champion

Book author Robert N. McCaulety explains,
“I don’t think there’s any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken.” McCauley is director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book ‘Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.’

Much ‘natural’ thinking common to young children
must be overcome with science. Mooney reports, “4 and 5 year old children tend to opine that clouds are ‘for raining’ and that the purpose of lions is ‘to go in the zoo.'” In similar fashion, some people think you have to get a PhD to contribute to paleontology. Not so.

Here are the seven reasons cited by McCauley and listed by Mooney,
why humans find it easier to believe in God than evolution, along with their antidotes:

  1. Essentialism. ‘Kinds’ are not kinds forever. Often one thing evolves over time or it may go extinct.
  2. Teleology. Things do not exist for ‘a purpose’.
  3. Agency detection. Living things are not ‘designed’ by a designer.
  4. Dualism. Minds/Souls are not separate from brains. Brains, like other parts, evolved over time and various niches, often convergently.
  5. Vast time scales. These can be difficult to comprehend. Geology is not intuitive, but must be learned, like the sun-centered solar system.
  6. Tribalism. In the wrong hands this can be detrimental. For entrenched leaders, heretics who propose new ideas that upset traditions must be opposed en masse. See “Why the world has to ignore” by Darren Naish 2012.
  7. The need for certainty. This should not be based on fear, especially fear of death. If hypotheses fail during a test, they must be considered invalid, even if being taught by a priest or a professor and even if it appears in holy texts or university-level textbooks. Outsiders often have the advantage over insiders, who have to follow protocol and tradition, or likewise fear the wrath of their mentors and peers.

Imagine what is going through the minds of paleontology students 
(whether enrolled or not) when Wikipedia, Facebook, Nature and Science are telling them one thing, and someone not affiliated with a museum of university is showing them errors and omissions in published images, cladograms and hypotheses. This is Dr. Naish’s nightmare… until he wakes up and runs his own phylogenetic analyses to see for himself what is and what isn’t. That’s always step one in paleontology.

The MotherJones article states, 
“First, this doesn’t mean science and religion are fundamentally incompatible.” Yeah, they are incompatible by definition. The former demands evidence. The latter denies/ suppresses evidence and relies on intuitive and traditional myths. On second thought, maybe, just maybe… paleo departments really are more like religions than they might care to admit.

The MotherJones article also states, 
“it doesn’t automatically follow that religion is the direct result of evolution by natural selection.” Yeah, it does automatically follow. Religion binds parties together for a common cause. Sometimes that common cause is to suppress, slander and libel individual heretics for the sake of continuing a traditional existence into the next and following generations. Even if all that heretic does is to invite testing with an expanded taxon list. See where that gets you here.


In Memorium: paleontologist Robert L. Carroll

Figure 1. Robert L. Carroll in his younger days.

Figure 1. Robert L. Carroll in his younger days.

Robert L. ‘Bob’ Carroll (1938-2020):
a warm-hearted, kind, and knowledgeable professor, always eager to answer a question.

Earlier, we looked at the impact of his major work from 1988, the textbook ‘Vertebrate Paleontology.’ That ‘must-have’ volume was a prime resource for many students and professors for decades. Some considered it ‘The Bible’ of our profession.

We all enter science to make a contribution. Carroll made his in small and large ways, not only by describing and illustrating many of his own discoveries, but by working with others to bring them all together between book covers in the pre-cladistic era. His work will remain on our library shelves. was built on that foundation and stands on the shoulders of this giant.

Use key word “Carroll” to see the index of all the taxa RL Carroll helped describe and covered in this blogpost.

A few days later this link goes into detail on RL Carroll’s career.

Headline: “Vertebrate palaeontologist who recognized and described the oldest known ancestor of all reptiles birds and mammals; the origins of terrestrial vertebrates, the origin of various amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.” 

Subhead: “Any high-school kid can go out and make fossil discoveries.”

Caveat: Some of those hypotheses have been superseded by more recent discoveries (e.g. “Hylonomus lyelli, shown here, is the oldest known reptile (315 million years)”… “Another paleontological mystery: where did turtles come from? Nobody knows.”)

Dinosaurs Rediscovered, new book by Dr. Michael Benton

FIgure 1. Dinosaurs rediscovered by MJ Benton book cover.

FIgure 1. Dinosaurs rediscovered by MJ Benton book cover.

Dr. Stephen Brusatte wrote
on the cover: “If you want to know how we know what we know about dinosaurs, read this book!”

‘Amazon Customer’ wrote
at the book’s website, “Nice production, but highly biased and speculative.” (more below)

Dr. MJ Benton is professor of vertebrate paleontology and head of the Palaeobiology Research Group at the U of Bristol, England. He has written more than fifty books, including the standard textbooks in palaeontology.

From the intro:
“One by one the speculations about evolution, locomotion, feeding, growth, reproduction, physiology, and, finally, color have fallen to the drive of transformation. A new breed of dinosaur palaeobiologist replace the older ones, and they have applied a hard eye to the old speculations. Smart lateral thinking, new fossils, and new methods of computation have stormed the field.”

Funny though,
Scleromochlus (Fig. 2) is not mentioned. Benton 1999 promoted this genus close to the origin of pterosaurs and in the book he maintains that pterosaurs remain close to the origin of dinosaurs with no further explanation. Evidently Scleromochlus is no longer in favor. Nearly 20 years ago Peters 2000 invalidated the pterosaurs-close-to-dinosaurs = ornithodire hypothesis by testing Benton’s cladogram and three others by simply adding taxa overlooked and poorly scored by Benton and other prior authors. But let’s move on…

Figure 3. According to the AMNH, Scleromochlus is "one of the closest early cousins of pterosaurs." Oddly, they gave it the skull of Longisquama. Note the vestigial hands. These cannot elongate to become wings and pedal digit 5 is a vestige that cannot elongate to match basal pterosaurs.

Figure 2. According to the AMNH, Scleromochlus is “one of the closest early cousins of pterosaurs.” Oddly, they gave it the skull of Longisquama. Note the vestigial hands. These cannot elongate to become wings and pedal digit 5 is a vestige that cannot elongate to match basal pterosaurs.

Chapter 1 — Origin of the Dinosaurs
Even in 2019, Benton writes, “One thing is known for sure: the dinosaurs originated during the Triassic period, between 252 and 201 million years ago. Nearly everything else is uncertain.” This is not exactly a teaser, because it does not jive with what Benton writes earlier (Benton 1999) and later (see below).

Benton reports
that he raised traditional eyebrows back in 1983 when he suggested the old standard model of one group/clade giving way to another should be replaced with a scenario in which new clades only appeared and/or radiated after an extinction event. This view makes great sense and is supported by strong evidence. Ironically, Benton reports, “This new idea of mine was probably quite annoying for the established paleontologists.” Now that he’s older, the tables have turned and it’s Benton’s turn to be annoyed. Philosophically he has taken the place of his 1983 opponent and mentor, Dr. Alan Charig in that Benton now refuses to consider, test or replace invalid scenarios with new ones.

Let’s not forget…
in his unbiased youth, Benton 1985 used an early form of phylogenetic analysis to show that pterosaurs were sister taxa to lepidosaurs, closer to lizards than to dinosaurs by a long shot. Now that this hypothesis has become heterodox, he and others have avoided it ever since by selective deletion of pertinent taxa.

Figure 2. Cladogram from Benton 1985 in which he nests pterosaurs closer to lepidosaurs than to dinosaurs and other archosaurs.

Figure 2. Cladogram from Benton 1985 in which he nests pterosaurs closer to lepidosaurs than to dinosaurs and other archosaurs. Lots of confusion here due to taxon exclusion going back to the advent of Reptilia (= Amniota).

A subchapter follows
on the lepidosaur rhynchosaur, Hyperodapedon (Benton 1983), where Benton first published on taxa he was given to worth with, but made the phylogenetic mistake of lumping rhynchosaurs with archosauromorphs. This was due to taxon exclusion.

The next subchapter, “What was the first dinosaur?”
Benton correctly identifies one of the first dinosaurs as Herrerasaurus. That agrees with the large reptile tree (LRT, 1562 taxa) which uses the last common ancestor method for determining clade member inclusion.

Basal bipedal dinosauriformes, from Lagerpeton through Marasuchus, Lewisuchus, Asilisaurus, Sacisaurus and Silesaurus.

Figure 3. Basal bipedal ‘dinosauriformes’, from Lagerpeton through Marasuchus, Lewisuchus, Asilisaurus, Sacisaurus and Silesaurus, according to Nesbitt (2011). The LRT does not support this listing or sequence.

Then Benton reports on the poposaur
dinosaur-mimic, Silesaurus (Fig. 3), the Early Triassic ichnite Prorotodactylus, and another poposaur dinosaur-mimic, Asilisaurus (Fig. 3). Benton reports, “The discovery of Asilisaurus unequivocally re-dated the origin of dinosaurs back from 230 to 245 million years ago, or older.” There is little to differentiate Asilisaurus from Silesaurus. Both remain poposaurs and dinosaur-mimics, unrelated to the dinosaurs, except through basal bipedal crocodylomorphs, which Benton avoids. So, taxon exclusion strikes Benton, once again.

Quote here, an anonymous, but well-educated, review from
“Dinosaurs Rediscovered is an engagingly written and highly personalized account of dinosaurs, generally covering the field’s perceived advances from 1980 to the present. The publisher Thames & Hudson did an outstanding job in producing the book, formatting, and in the selection of paper.

“The author notes that the field transformed from 1984 onwards by cladistic methods, and the resulting phylogenetic trees or cladograms have thus become the “basis” for evaluating evolutionary models and all things dinosaurian, including anatomical reconstructions, physiology, behaviour, etc. The work described is rather restricted, with most emphasis given to the University of Bristol’s vertebrate palaeontologists, often ignoring important discoveries from other groups, and regrettably ignoring most conflicting evidence. The most egregious is the complete omission of any discussion of the persisting problem of dinosaur/avian digital homology.

“Benton begins with the discovery (in his laboratory) of microsomes known as melanosomes from SEMs of fibers from the back of the small theropod Sinosauropteryx, that were described as “proto-feathers” back in 1998. However, there was never any evidence that the fibers had any feather affinity, and many who studied the specimens found an external coating of small tubercular scales above the layer of fibers —- since prepared away and lost! It is clear, however, that the fibers called proto-feathers or “dino-fuzz” were beneath the skin and therefore not feathers. Too, as South African palaeontologist Lingham-Soliar showed in several important papers (not cited) the structures called melanosomes cannot be interpreted from the scanning electron micrograph (p. 8) as being within the fibers. Speculation!

“Plate V shows a fuzzy Sinosauropteryx with a ring tail like that of a civit or ring-tailed cat!! Then there is an outlandish image of a reconstruction of the Jurassic urvogel Anchiornis (incorrectly called a troodontid, see Pei ref below), as a terrestrial animal; but the feathers emanating from the legs and feet would have been a hindrance in ground locomotion. New fossil images (Pei et al., 2017 AMNH Bull 411, 66 pp) show claws consistent with tree-trunk climbing, similar to those of other urvogels. Plate VI shows photos of a “dinosaur tail” in amber, but there is NO evidence it is from a dinosaur and is most likely an enantiornithine bird.

“The section on dinosaur evolution is straight forward, but laden with speculation, and given the massive convergence among various archosaur lineages during the Triassic it is difficult to have full faith in the interpretations; and authors from Cambridge and the British Museum have questioned the time-honored phylogeny (pp. 82-84).

“Most of the remainder of the book is a romp through the various dinosaurian groups, with comments on everything from brains and internal organs to behaviour. Archaeopteryx is depicted as an earth-bound runner (p. 112), with open wings (like no living avian cursor – e.g. capercallie, chicken, etc.), despite the fact that Manchester’s Derek Yalden showed conclusively that the urvogel’s claws were those of a trunk-climber, quite similar in structure to those of woodpeckers and climbing mammals.

“Benton notes (122) without reservation that Sinosauropteryx “was the first dinosaur to have its feather colour determined”—-and on page 123 he shows a feathered Caudipteryx with avian wing feathers and notes “it is clearly a theropod and not a bird” in contrast to numerous papers arguing that it is a secondarily flightless bird. If not, flight feathers, a perfection of aerodynamic engineering, would have to evolve in a non-flight context, a real stretch of biological thought!

“In chapter 5 “Jurassic Park” he seems ambivalent about reconstructing dinosaurs from ancient DNA, although most would agree that it is impossible. Certainly Mary Schweitzer’s supposed discovery of T. rex blood vessels and proteins has been firmly refuted. He comments on small genome size in birds and dinosaurs, but the studies conflated the two groups, and small genome size is to be found in flying animals: bats, pterosaurs and birds. Growth studies on dinosaurs are discussed but much of that has recently been brought into question. Allosaurus (188) and Tyrannosaurus, with no evidence, are shown with a feathered coat! Diplodocus (210) is shown with neck high in the air, a posture disputed by computer-generated imaging. Benton appears to favor the model of flight origin of Dial and Heers, but such a model requires a fully developed flight apparatus, and both putative dinosaurian ancestors of birds, urvogels, and even archosaurian antecedents, all lacked the pectoral architecture to enact this model. It just will not work. Much speculation!

“Finally, although there is no citation in the text, the monolithic bibliographic listing in the section on ‘Further Reading’ is alarming; it appears highly selected to bolster the Bristolian view of dinosaurs, while ignoring any contrary views, many of which are supported by solid scientific data. Most disturbingly, the discoveries by Chinese palaeontologists, especially those at Beijing’s Institute of Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, which in reality propelled the recent revolution in our knowledge of dinosaur/bird evolution is largely ignored.”

Dr. Benton’s new book gave us old, misguided and too often invalid information. In 2019 we know better how taxa are related to one another and Benton should have known better, too. Taxon exclusion (= phylogenetic context) seems to be his number one problem because his descriptions and illustrations of specimens are typically excellent. After messing up on his first paper (removing rhynchosaurs from rhynchocephalians), Benton’s reputation and output continue to be tarnished with his latest book and many of his recent papers all due to taxon exclusion. On the other hand, and in the present climate, Dr. Benton understands there is no consequence for ignoring new hypotheses. If only he could recall what it was like for him back in 1983, trying to promote his own new scenario to the establishment.

Those paleo professionals who wrote glowing reports
for this book should also have known better, but allegiance can sometimes trump good science. Author and paleontologist, Stephen Brusatte (quoted above) was a student at Bristol, where Benton teaches.

A wide gamut phylogenetic analysis based on specimens
is a necessary ingredient before, during and after any specimen description. It remains the one and only way to minimize taxon exclusion.

Benton MJ 1983. The Triassic reptile Hyperodapedon from Elgin, functional morphology and relationships. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 302, 605-717.
Benton MJ 1985. Classification and phylogeny of diapsid reptiles. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 84: 97-164.
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
Benton MJ 2019. Dinosaurs rediscovered. Thames & Hudson.
Nesbitt SJ, Sidor CA, Irmis RB, Angielczyk KD, Smith RMH and Tsuji LMA 2010. Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira. Nature 464 (7285): 95–98. doi:10.1038/nature08718. PMID 20203608.
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.

Evolution: like explaining the details of a magic trick

Some people really don’t want to know in detail how evolution works.
Unfortunately, this list of people includes some professors and students of paleontology. They prefer to keep a few enigmas and mysteries in their pocket even though all workers employ the number one tool of evolutionary biologists and paleontologists, the cladogram produced by phylogenetic analysis. Their magic trick is to omit certain taxa to get or retain the traditional results they want. Some academics think their fellow workers do this to ensure publication, staying within the current orthodoxy.

Example one:
It has been nearly twenty years since Peters 2000 presented several pterosaur ancestor, each one closer to pterosaurs than the next and each one closer to pterosaurs than any tested archosaur. All traditional archosaur candidates, including Scleromochlus (Benton 1999), were tested by simple taxon addition to four previously published analyses.

  1. Has anyone adopted this hypothesis in the last twenty years? No.
  2. Has anyone tested this hypothesis? Well, Hone and Benton 2007 announced they were going to test this hypothesis, but when tentative results matched those of Peters 2000 (the only study that included all four novel taxa), they decided to delete all data from and all reference to Peters 2000 in their follow up paper (Hone and Benton 2008).
  3. My paper correcting earlier interpretations of several taxa in Peters 2000 was denied publication by referees (members of the pterosaur community). You can read those revisions here at [This update added < 24 hours after yesterday’s post].

Sometimes I wonder if anyone else would have tested these four taxa sometime over the last twenty years if I had not done so. The odds and circumstances, I fear, don’t support that vague hope. Dr. John Ostrom also lamented this sort of situation, noting that Archaeopteryx linked theropod dinosaurs to birds a hundred years before his Deinonychus and the proliferation of feathered Chinese taxa that finally sealed the deal for most of the paleo community.


Example two:
Genetic studies keep coming up with odd sister taxa that don’t look like one another. Nevertheless, workers have put their faith in their parade of illogical results without batting an eyelash. They think their results reveal previously unconsidered relationships, creating greater gulfs between sister taxa that will hopefully, someday be filled by future paleo discoveries. They seem to ignore, or don’t wish to examine the bones in their cabinets, preferring instead the invisible, hopeful results of DNA codes, while publicly recognizing that genomic results rarely duplicate phenomic results.

Examples three through eighteen:

  1. In turtle studies, you won’t find Niolamia, Odontochelys, Sclerosaurus and Elginia in the same cladogram.
  2. In whale studies, you won’t find tenrecs, elephant shrews, mesonychids, hippos and desmostylians in the same cladogram.
  3. In bat studies you won’t find pangolins and their ancestors in the same cladogram.
  4. In Jurassic placental studies you won’t find rodents, carpolestids, Daubentonia and multituberculates in the same cladogram.
  5. In ichthyosaur studies you won’t find mesosaurs and pachypleurosaurs in the same cladogram.
  6. In dinosaur studies you won’t find a list of basal bipedal crocodlyomorphs in the same cladogram.
  7. In synapsid/mammal studies you won’t find a long list of amphibian-like reptiles in the same cladogram.
  8. In caseid studies you won’t find millerettids, Aclestorhinus and a long list of amphibian-like reptiles in the same cladogram.
  9. In basal mammal studies, you won’t find arboreal didelphids in the same cladogram.
  10. In Vancleavea studies, you won’t find thalattosaurs in the same cladogram.
  11. In basal archosauriform studies, you won’t find a long list of terrestrial younginid and proterosuchid specimens in the same cladogram.
  12. In pterosaur studies, you won’t find every well-known specimen, including tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs, in the same cladogram.
  13. In bird origin studies, you won’t find all 13 Solnhofen birds and pre-birds in the same cladogram.
  14. In lepidosaur studies you won’t find pterosaurs and their fenestrasaur and tritosaur ancestors in the same cladogram.
  15. In placoderm studies you won’t find catfish in the same cladogram.
  16. In snake origin studies you won’t find the quadrupedal Jurassic ancestors that link to basalmost geckos in the same cladogram.
  17. The list goes on…

If you want to see all the above omitted taxa in the same cladogram,
all you have to do is click here for the large reptile tree (1558+ taxa) where the last common ancestors of all included clades are documented and validated all the way back to Silurian jawless fish. Here taxon exclusion is minimized adding confidence to the results vs. prior studies that continue to omit key taxa.

Benton MJ 1999. Scleromochlus taylori and the origin of the pterosaurs. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, Series B 354 1423-1446.
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 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.

Testing for bipedalism in archosaurs (and pterosaurs)

Grinham, VanBuren and Norman 2019
looked at the origin of bipedalism in the archosaur and pre-archosaur ancestors of birds.

They report, “We test whether facultative bipedality is a transitionary state of locomotor mode evolution in the most recent early archosaur phylogenies using maximum-likelihood ancestral state reconstructions for the first time. Across a total of seven independent transitions from quadrupedality to a state of obligate bipedality, we find that facultative bipedality exists as an intermediary mode only once, despite being acquired a total of 14 times. We also report more independent acquisitions of obligate bipedality in archosaurs than previously hypothesized, suggesting that locomotor mode is more evolutionarily fluid than expected and more readily experimented with in these reptiles.”

The authors used the cladograms of Ezcurra 2016 and Nesbitt 2011,
both of which are riddled with inappropriate taxon inclusion and exclusion problems as reported earlier here and here. Therefore comparisons regarding the number of times obligate bipedality in archosaurs occurred is useless lacking a consensus phylogenetic contaxt. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1542 taxa) bipedality occurs only once in archosaurs. It just precedes the origin of the archosaurs (crocs + dinos only). Ezcurra, Nesbitt and Grinham et al. include a long list of inappropriate taxa in their inclusion set according to the LRT that skews results (e.g. the lepidosauromorphs: Jesairisosaurus, Macrocnemus, Mesosuchus, Gephyrosaurus, Planocephalosaurus, Eudimorphodon, Dimorphodon).

Grinham, VanBuren and Norman 2019
follow Nesbitt 2011 who listed the pterosaurs Eudimorphodon and Dimorphodon as archosauriforms. Grinham et al. 2017 considered both to be quadrupeds without explanation. The only pterosaur paper cited by Grinham et al. is Padian 2008. Peters 2007 recovered pterosaurs with lepidosaurs like Huehuecuetzpalli, later validated, expanded and published online in LRT. Peters 2000, 2011 reported on bipedal pterosaur tracks and restricted most cited pterosaur ichnites to flat-footed beach-combing pterosaur clades. Use keyword “bipedal pterosaur tracks” in the SEARCH box to see prior samples of digitigrade and bipedal tracks reported by this blogpost along with their citations.

Padian 2008 reported
“Peters (2000) also reached the conclusion that pterosaurs were not ornithodirans, and found instead that they were nested within what is traditionally considered the Prolacertiformes. It remains to be seen whether other workers can duplicate this result, but a recent analysis by Hone and Benton (2007) failed to find support for Peters’ analyses. For the present, because five different analyses have found that pterosaurs are ornithodirans, and the systematic community seems to have largely accepted this, the present paper will proceed with this provisional conclusion, without discounting other possible solutions.”

We looked at the bogus results
of Hone and Benton 2007 earlier here. They dropped taxa proposed as pterosaur ancestors by Peters 2000 because their inclusion would have tilted their supertree toward the topology recovered by Peters 2000, who tested four previously published cladograms by adding novel taxa to them. One year earlier than Peters 2000, co-author Benton 1999 had proposed Scleromochlus as a pterosaur sister/ancestor, which Peters 2000 invalidated. Evidently professor Benton did not appreciate that and succeeded, at least in Padian’s eyes, to dismiss Peters 2000 as an unacceptable and suppressible minority view.

Note that none
of Padian’s “five different analyses” used novel taxa proposed by Peters 2000. Padian’s report, “The systematic community seems to have largely accepted this,” demonstrates that Padian and his community were adverse to testing the novel taxa of Peters 2000 on their own terms, preferring the cozy comfort of tradition and orthodoxy — and they did this after Peters 2000 invalidated earlier efforts simply by adding a few taxa. Very easy to do. Even today it remains impossible to explain the origin of pterosaurs as archosaurs in a phylogenetic context because they are not archosaurs. In the world of academics, taxon exclusion remains a useful tool. We should all fight against this practice.

Later Padian 2008 reports, 
“Alternatively, if we consider that pterosaurs evolved from quadrupedal basal archosauromorphs such as Prolacertiformes (Peters, 2000), a rather different model of limb evolution must be proposed. In prolacertiforms the humerus is longer than the forearm and the femur is longer than the tibia; the glenoacetabular length is also long, as in most terrestrial quadrupeds. To attain the proportions seen in basal pterosaurs, the relative lengths of humerus and forearm and of femur and tibia would have to have been reversed, and the vertebral column would have had to shorten considerably (or the limb segments increase). These changes are independent of the extensive reorganization of the joints for erect posture and parasagittal gait, for which there is no evidence so far in prolacertiforms.”

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. The origin of the pterosaur wing and the migration of the pteroid and preaxial carpal. A. Sphenodon. B. Huehuecuetzpalli. C. Cosesaurus. D. Sharovipteryx. E. Longisquama. F-H. The Milan specimen MPUM 6009, a basal pterosaur.

Note: Padian 2008 chose to ignore the limb proportions
of Longisquama (Figs. 1, 2) another taxon proposed by Peters 2000 with a humerus shorter than the forearm, as in pterosaurs. He also ignored Sharovipteryx, another taxon proposed by Peters 2000, with a femur shorter than the tibia. In the world of academics, taxon exclusion remains a useful tool. We should all fight against this.

Padian 2008 also chose to ignore the evidence for bipedalism
in Cosesaurus (Fig. 2) matching facutatively bipedal Rotodactylus tracks (Peters 2000) and Sharovipteryx (Fig. 2), an obligate biped based on proportions. Both have the short torso relative to the limb length sought for and purposefully overlooked by Padian 2008 (see above quotation). In the world of academics, taxon exclusion remains a useful tool. We should all fight against this.

Figure 3. The origin of pterosaurs now includes Kyrgyzsaurus, nesting between Cosesaurus and Sharovipteryx.

Figure 2. The origin of pterosaurs now includes Kyrgyzsaurus, nesting between Cosesaurus and Sharovipteryx.

Students of paleontology:
I’m sorry, this is just the way it is.

Getting back to bipedalism in archosaurs,
the LRT, subset Fig. 4) documents the patterns and possibilities of bipedal locomotion in taxa preceding dinosaurs. The topology here employs more taxa, pushes pterosaurs over to lepidosaurs (Peters 2007) and nests only Crocodylomorpha + Dinosauria within the Archosauria. Poposauria is the proximal outgroup. This is where bipedalism in archosaurs first appeared. Other bipedal taxa achieved this ability by convergence. Secondary quadrupedalism occurred several times in archosaurs, and by convergence in certain derived pterosaurs (e.g. ctenochasmatids and azhdarchids), as evidenced by their backward pointing manual digit 3 in ichnites.

Figure 3. Subset of the LRT focusing on the archosauromorph synapsid-grade taxa and diapsid-grade taxa with color added to bipedal taxa.

Figure 3. Subset of the LRT focusing on the archosauromorph synapsid-grade taxa and diapsid-grade taxa with color added to bipedal taxa.

As documented here and elsewhere
It does not matter if certain hypotheses are peer-reviewed and published or not.
Academic authors can choose to omit pertinent taxa and papers knowing that ‘friendly’ academic referees and editors will likewise choose to overlook such omissions. Apparently all academics seek and work to maintain the orthodox line, no matter how invalid it may be.

That’s why this blogpost and came into being.
We’re talking about hard science. Ignoring and omitting hard evidence cannot be tolerated or coddled. I ask only that academic workers rise to the professionalism they seek to inspire in their own students. History will put this all into perspective. Professional legacies may end up in shame unless they take action soon. Just test the taxa. 

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
Ezcurra MD 2016 The phylogenetic relationships of basal archosauromorphs, with an emphasis on the systematics of proterosuchian archosauriforms. PeerJ 4, e1778. (doi:10.7717/peerj.1778)
Grinham LR, VanBuren CS and Norman DB 2019. Testing for a facultative locomotor mode in the acquisition of archosaur bipedality. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 190569.
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.
Nesbitt SJ 2011. The early evolution ofArchosaurs: relationships and the origin of major clades. Bull. Am. Museum Nat. Hist. 352, 1–292. (doi:10.1206/352.1)
Padian K 2008. Were pterosaur ancestors bipedal or quadrupedal? Morphometric,
functional, and phylogenetic considerations. Zitteliana R. B Abhandlungen der Bayer.
Staatssammlung fur Palaontologie und Geol. 28B, 21–28.
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. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting, Munich 27
Peters D 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141.