Digitally boosting contrast to better see pterosaur wings

With all the new innovations
in seeing otherwise invisible details using UV, RTI, laser and fluorescing lighting, let’s not forget that Adobe Photoshop can boost contrast after the original digital photograph has been taken. In the present example (Figs. 1-4), the wing membrane is ever so slightly darker than the matrix, but that small range can be increased digitally.

Figure 1. The proximal wing of TMP 2008.41.001 showing original photo, original tracing along with boosted contrast and color tracing.

Figure 1. The proximal wing of TMP 2008.41.001 showing original photo, original tracing along with boosted contrast and color tracing. Nothing changes here, except the interpretation. I say this is data. Hone et al. 2015 wrongly call this ‘shrinkage’. Where is the pteroid? I would X-ray this slab. Based on the propatagium, it is probably buried.

Earlier we looked at
the TMP  2008.41.0001 specimen of Rhamphorhynchus (Hone et al.  2015). Today we’ll just rotate the images to fit the taller-than-wide blogspace format and digitally boost the contrast of the published photos to see what we can see together. Hon et al. traced the same wing membrane borders. Then they said it was ‘fake news’ due to ‘shrinkage’, but only where they wanted it to ‘shrink’.

Figure 3. Right wing and tail of the TM 2008.41.0001 specimen with contrast digitally boosted. Labels and line art from Hone et al. 2016.

Figure 2. Right wing and tail of the TM 2008.41.0001 specimen with contrast digitally boosted. Labels and line art from Hone et al. 2016.

Despite the fact
that this specimen documents a narrow-chord wing membrane stretched between the elbow and wingtip (Fig. 1), no citation to Peters 2002 was provided by Hone et al. 2016, thus fulfilling Bennett’s curse, “You won’t get published and if you do get published, you won’t get cited.”

As readers already know
Dr. David Hone deleted all reference to Peters 2000 when testing the minority view on pterosaur origins (from fenestrasaurs, Peters 2000) versus the majority view (from archosaurs, Bennett 1996), then ascribing both views to Bennett (1996) in a series of two papers (Hone and Benton  2007, 2009) discussed earlier here.

According to Hone et al. (2016):
“Each wing has a more narrow chord along  most of its length than seen in some specimens of Rhamphorhynchus (e.g., BSPG 1938 I 503a, the ‘DarkWing’ specimen—Frey et al., 2003) suggesting some postmortem shrinkage of the membranes (Elgin, Hone & Frey, 2011).”

Unfortunately,
Hone et al did not realize they were looking at a patch of mid-wing membrane in the DarkWing specimen (Fig. 4). We looked at the pre- and post-mortem disarticulation of the ‘DarkWing specimen earlier here.

Of course,
the authors did not forget to cite their own study on wing shape, Elgin, Hone & Frey 2011, in which they considered all examples of a narrow chord wing membrane (that means all examples) caused due to taphonomic ‘shrinkage.’ Their zeal for re-imagining hard data was reviewed earlier here and here.

Figure 2. Left wing of TMP 2008.41.001 showing original photo, original tracing along with boosted contrast and color tracing. Wing tip includes apparently missing wingtip ungual, but there is an articular surface there.

Figure 3. Left wing of TMP 2008.41.001 showing original photo, original tracing along with boosted contrast and color tracing. Wing tip includes apparently missing wingtip ungual, but there is an articular surface there and the membrane extends beyond m4.4.

The wing tip was twisted during burial
rotating the distal elements 180º. This was misinterpreted by Hone and Elgin in their report of the small rhamphorhychid, Bellubrunnus, in which they claimed this was the natural orientation of the wing tip elements in Bellubrunnus. We looked at that unfortunate interpretation earlier here.

Figure 1. The darkwing specimen of Rhamphorhynchus. Top: in situ. Middle: Soft tissues highlighted. Bottom: Neck and forelimb restored.

Figure 4. The darkwing specimen of Rhamphorhynchus. Top: in situ. Middle: Soft tissues highlighted. Bottom: Neck and forelimb restored to the invivo position. Note: the proximal portion is not exposed in situ.  The purple line is drawn based on phylogenetic bracketing. All other pterosaurs have a narrow chord wing membrane.

It is not good for paleontology
when workers ignore hard data.

The Zittel wing

Figure 5. The Zittel wing from a species of Rhamphorhynchus. Click to enlarge. Elgin, Hone and Frey 2011 dismissed this specimen as another example of ‘shrinkage’, but only where they wanted it to shrink.

The other question you should ask,
is why professional paleontologists, PhDs and professors are not calling attention to such issues? It is not good for paleontology when a civilian scientist has to point out such errors of judgement…over and over. Your paleontologists are imagining ‘shrinkage’ wherever they want to and not elsewhere, for some strange reason. Imagine their worst nightmare… backing away from their imaginary interpretations as they begrudgingly accept reality.

IF there was even ONE example
of a pterosaur wing membrane attached at the ankles, I would be the first to tell you about it. So far, all evidence purporting to do so, like the infamous Sordes holotype, has been soundly and thoroughly debunked. Please tell that to the authors listed below, plus any other artists and PhDs who need to know.


References
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
Hone D, Henderson DM, Therrien F and Habib MB 2015. A specimen of Rhamphorhynchus with soft tissue preservation, stomach contents and a putative coprolite. PeerJ 3:e1191; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1191
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/what-the-dark-wing-rhamphorhynchus-tells-us/

 

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Vestigial fingers on the UNSM 93000 Nyctosaurus

The UNSM 93000 specimen attributed to Nyctosaurus
has only three wing phalanges and the tiny vestigial free fingers have never been looked at using DGS methods before. Well, here they are (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Closeup of the UNSM 93000 specimen of Nyctosaurus focusing on three vestige free fingers.

Figure 1. Closeup of the UNSM 93000 specimen of Nyctosaurus focusing on three vestige free fingers. This is what happens when you no longer need these fingers. You can tell Nyctosaurus from Pteranodon in that the former never fuses the sesamoid (extensor tendon process) to phalanx 4.1. Other wrongly consider this a trait of immaturity.

Nyctosaurus sp. UNSM 93000 (Brown 1978, 1986) was derived from a sister to Nyctosaurus gracilis and phylogenetically preceded the crested Nyctosaurus specimens. Except for the rostral tip, the skull and cervicals are missing. Distinct from Nyctosaurus gracilis, the dorsals of the Nebraska specimen relatively shorter. The scapula and coracoid were more robust. The deltopectoral crest of the humerus most closely resembled that of Muzquizopteryx. Fingers I-III were tiny vestiges. Manual 4.1 extended to mid ulna when folded. Manual 4.4 was probably fused to m4.3 or it was missing and m4.3 became curved.

Figure 1. The UNSM specimen of Nyctosaurus, the only one for which we are sure it had only three wing phalanges.

Figure 2. The UNSM specimen of Nyctosaurus, the only one for which we are sure it had only three wing phalanges.

The pubis and ischium did not touch, as in more primitive nyctosaurs. It would have been impossible for the forelimb to develop thrust during terrestrial locomotion. It was likely elevated or used like a ski-pole.


The family tree of the Ornithocephalia and Germanodactylia is here. The expanded family tree of the Pterosauria is here.


References
Brown GW 1978. Preliminary report on an articulated specimen of Pteranodon Nyctosaurusgracilis. Proceedings of the Nebraska Academy of Science 88: 39.
Brown GW 1986. Reassessment of Nyctosaurus: new wings for an old pterosaur. Proceedings of the Nebraska Academy of Science 96: 47.

 

Scaphognathus wing membrane in visible light

Today a paper by Jäger et al. 1831
put the holotype of Scaphognathus (Goldfuß 1831; Late Jurassic) under various forms of illumination and re-discovered soft tissue originally noted and rarely cited.

Figure 1. Holotype of Scaphognathus GIF animation showing extent of wing membrane ignored by xx et al. 2018.

Figure 1. Holotype of Scaphognathus GIF animation showing extent of wing membrane ignored by xx et al. 2018.

Ironically
the authors ignored the most obvious aspect of the Scaphognathus soft tissue: the presence of a narrow chord wing membrane (Fig. 1), as documented by Peters (2002) and ignored ever since, per Chris Bennett’s threat, “You won’t get published, and if you do get published, you won’t get cited.”

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

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

The Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus
(Figs. 2, 3) are the prime examples of a narrow chord wing membrane, stretched between the wing tip and elbow… as in all pterosaurs that preserve soft tissue.

The Vienna Pterodactylus.

Figure 3. The Vienna Pterodactylus. Click to animate. Wing membranes in situ (when folded) then animated to extend them. There is no shrinkage here or in ANY pterosaur wing membrane. There is only an “explanation” to avoid dealing with the hard evidence here and elsewhere.

There are still no examples
of a deep chord wing membrane (attached to the ankle or tibia) preserved in any pterosaurs, as documented here, here, here and here.

References
Goldfuß A 1831. Beiträge zur Kenntnis verschiedener Reptilien der Vorwelt. Nova Acta Physico-Medica Academiae Caesareae Leopoldino-Carolinae Naturae Curiosorum, 15:61-128.
KRK Jäger, Tischlinger H, Oleschinski G, and Sander PM 2018. Goldfuß was right: Soft part preservation in the Late Jurassic pterosaur Scaphognathus crassirostris revealed by reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) and UV light and the auspicious beginnings of paleo-art. Palaeontologia Electronica 21.3.4T: 1-20. pdf
Peters D 2002. A new model for the evolution of the pterosaur wing – with a twist. Historical Biology 15: 277–301.

Is Jeholopterus pregnant? And what’s hiding in plain sight beneath that left wing?

There seems to be an overlooked egg shape
inside Jeholopterus, the vampire pterosaur, at just the right place (Figs. 1, 2; IVPP V12705). It’s not full term, so embryo/hatchling bones are not readily visible (= fully ossified) and currently impossible to reconstruct. Then again, that patch could be just a scuff mark.

Figure 1. Jeholopterus GIF animation showing new left wing shape plus underlying debris, perhaps in the form of theropod feathers.

Figure 1. Jeholopterus GIF animation showing new left wing shape plus underlying debris, some in the form of theropod feathers. Folded wings on pterosaurs should essentially disappear. This new interpretation follows that hypothesis. Click for an enlarged image.

Remember
pterosaurs are fenestrasaur – tritosaurlepidosaurs, so they are able to retain eggs within the mother’s body until just before hatching. Even their super-thin, lizard-like egg shells (or lack thereof) supports the present tree topology of pterosaurs as lepidosaurs in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1315 taxa) and disputes traditional models of archosaurian origin first invalidated by Peters 2000 by phylogenetic testing. Pterosaur eggs found alone (not near the mother) outside the body (like the IVPP anurognathid) include full term embryos. The Hamipterus egg accumulation chronicles a mass death of pregnant mothers, probably by lake burping.

Moreover
Jeholopterus seems to have landed on (= sunk on to after death) some theropod/bird feathers or similarly shaped pond plants. I suspected there was something wrong with that way-too-broad-while-folded wing. Pterosaur wings typically fold up to near nothingness, like bat wings do, when folded. It turns out, that’s the case here, too. There is a fringed trailing edge where the current and correct blue area ends. Make sure you click for a larger image.

Figure 2. Possible Jeholopterus premature egg in which embryo bones are not well calcified. Ribs and gastralia on a separate frame.

Figure 2. Possible Jeholopterus premature egg in which embryo bones are not well calcified. Ribs and gastralia on separate frames.

Look up at the left hand
of Jeholopterus and you’ll see there is some sort of fossilized matter (greenish color added on overlay) on the stratum that the specimen sank to. The same appears to be happening near the left wing tip, where something like feathers or long leaves appear, giving the illusion of a little too much pterosaur wing chord, especially in comparison to the right wing, which appears ‘normal.’

Figure 3. Jeholopterus counter plate in UV with brachiopatagium traced.

Figure 3. Jeholopterus counter plate in UV with brachiopatagium traced. UV image from Kellner et al. 2010.

Jeholopterus ninchengensis (Wang, Zhou, Zhang and Xu 2002) Middle to Late Jurassic, ~ 160 mya, [IVPP V 12705] was exquisitely preserved with wing membranes and pycnofibers on a complete and articulated skeleton (see below). Unfortunately the fragile and crushed skull was undecipherable to those who observed it first hand. Using methods described here, Peters (2003) deciphered the skull and identified the IVPP specimen of Jeholopterus as a vampire. In that hypothesis, Jeholopterus stabbed dinosaurs with its fangs, then drank their blood by squeezing the wound with its plier-like jaws while hanging on with its robust limbs and surgically sharp, curved and elongated claws. From head to toe, Jeholopterus stood apart morphologically. It was not your typical anurognathid. Derived from a sister to the CAGS specimen attributed to Jeholopterus, the holotype of Jeholopterus was a phylogenetic sister to Batrachognathus.

Figure 2. Reconstruction of Jeholopterus. This owl-like bloodslurper was covered with super soft pycnofibers to make it a silent flyer.

Figure 4. Reconstruction of Jeholopterus. This owl-like bloodslurper was covered with super soft pycnofibers to make it a silent flyer. Note the wider than tall torso and super long, super sharp claws.

These Jeholopterus wing images support
the narrow chord wing membrane stretched between elbow and wing tip (Peters 2002) and ignored by all subsequent workers. Note: Peters 2002 did not understand that something else made the left wing of Jeholopterus appear to have a deeper chord at mid wing. The illusion is that complete!

References
Cheng X, Wang X, Jiang S and Kellner AWA 2014. Short note on a non-pterodactyloid pterosaur from Upper Jurassic deposits of Inner Mongolia, China. Historical Biology (advance online publication) DOI:10.1080/08912963.2014.974038
Kellner AWA, Wang X, Tischlinger H, Campos DA, Hone DWE and Meng X 2010. The soft tissue of Jeholopterus (Pterosauria, Anurognathidae, Batrachognathinae) and the structure of the pterosaur wing membrane. Proc Royal Soc B 277: 321–329.
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. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23(3): 87A.
Wang X, Zhou Z, Zhang F and Xu X 2002. A nearly completely articulated rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur with exceptionally well-preserved wing membranes and “hairs” from Inner Mongolia, northeast China. Chinese Science Bulletin 47(3): 226-230.

wiki/Jeholopterus

New pterosaur hatchling video from Dr. Witton misinforms

A new video
from Dr. M. Witton looks at the possibility of gliding in hatchling pterosaurs. Unfortunately it is full of misinformation.

Distinct from what Dr. Witton is telling us,
pterosaur hatchling and juvenile proportions are not much different than their 8x larger adult forms. See link below and this growth series image: https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/pterodaustro-isometric-growth-series/

From the hatchling Pterodaustro image,
Dr. Witton has omitted the skull and neck, but it is present in the egg (it has to be!) and is nearly identical to that of the adult. We looked at a second embryo earlier here (Fig. 2), and for the first embryo see:  http://reptileevolution.com/pterodaustro-embryo.htm for details.
Figure 3. Rough reconstruction using color tracings. Note the elongate jaws and small eye, documenting isometric growth in this pterosaur, as in all others where this can be seen.

Figure 2. Rough reconstruction using color tracings. Note the elongate jaws and small eye, documenting isometric growth in this pterosaur, as in all others where this can be seen.

Relatively large hatchlings
were able to take flight shortly after hatching. True. The eggs were carried within the mother until ready to hatch, as in many lepidosaurs. The eggshell membrane is also lepidosaurian.
In direct contrast,
the fly-sized hatchllngs of tiny pterosaurs had to grow to a size at which they could leave their damp leaf litter environs, or suffer from desiccation based on their surface-to-volume ratio, as in the tiniest living lizards.  See: https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/the-tiniest-pterosaur-no-6/
Figure 4. Two of the smallest pterosaurs that both have a large sternal complex. BMNH42736 and B St 1967 I 276.

Figure 3. Two of the smallest pterosaurs that both have a large sternal complex. BMNH42736 and B St 1967 I 276.

Gliding is not an option
for baby pterosaurs hatching on the ground. Pterosaurs and their ancestors were flapping before they could fly. Gliding is an ability acquired later in large derived taxa, the same as in birds.
FIgure 8. Dimorphodon take off (with the new small tail).

FIgure 4. Dimorphodon take off (with the new small tail).

The quadrupedal launch
shown in several illustrations is not only bogus, but dangerous and inefficient for the pterosaur. Much better to use the giant flapping wing for thrust from the first moment of take-off. For details: https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/seven-problems-with-the-pterosaur-wing-launch-hypothesis/
Figure 8. A larger view of Nemicolopterus. Pedal digit 5 is relatively reduced here.

Figure 5. Nemicolopterus. This tiny taxon is close to Sinopterus, but closer to Shenzhoupterous. 

Dr. Witton discusses a Sinopterus dongi hatchling.
He is considering tiny adult Nemicolopterus (Fig. 5) a hatchling. The Nemicolopterus specimen has traits distinct from Sinopterus and nests separately in a cladogram closer to Shenzhoupterus, whereas all other adult/hatchling pairs nest together in a pterosaur cladogram. See: http://reptileevolution.com/nemicolopterus.htm
Figure 1. The new small Pteranodon wing, FHSM 17956, compared to Ptweety and the adult NMC41-358 specimen.

Figure 6. The new small Pteranodon wing, FHSM 17956, compared to Ptweety and the adult NMC41-358 specimen.

We know of not one, but two Pteranodon juveniles.
For details: http://reptileevolution.com/pteranodon-juvenile.htm
For all future and present paleontologists reading this blog.
It is vitally important that you back up your hypotheses with evidence. Don’t cherry-pick or cherry-delete data to fit your notions or fool an audience.

Big pterosaurs: big or little wing tips

Earlier and below (Fig. 2) we looked at large and giant pterosaur wings comparing them to the largest flying birds, including one of the largest extant flying birds, the stork, Ciconia, and the extinct sheerwater, Pelagornis, the largest bird that ever flew.

FIgure 2. A basal pteranodotid, the most complete Pteranodon, the largest Pteranodon skull matched to the largest Pteranodon post-crania compared to the stork Ciconia and the most complete and the largest Quetzalcoatlus

FIgure 1. A basal pteranodotid, the most complete Pteranodon, the largest Pteranodon skull matched to the largest Pteranodon post-crania compared to the stork Ciconia and the most complete and the largest Quetzalcoatlus. Note the much reduced distal phalanges in the complete and giant Quetzalcoatlus, distinct from the Pteranodon species.

Today
we’ll look at how the largest Pteranodon (Figs. 1, 4) compares to much larger pterosaurs, like Quetzalcoatlus northropi (Figs. 1, 2) that have vestigial wingtips similar to those of the  much smaller flightless pre-azhdarchid, SOS 2428 (Fig. 3).

Note the tiny three distal phalanges
on the wing of the largest Quetzalcoatlus, distinct from the more typical elongate and robust distal phalangeal proportions on volant pterosaurs of all sizes. Much smaller definitely flightless pterosaurs, like SOS 2428, shrink those distal phalanges, too. That’s the pattern when pterosaurs lose the ability to fly.

Figure 2. Q. northropi and Q. sp. compared to Ciconia, the stork, and Pelagornis, the extinct gannet, to scale. That long neck and large skull of Quetzalcoatlus would appear to make it top heavy relative to the volant stork, despite the longer wingspan. Pteranodon and other flying pterosaurs do not have such a large skull at the end of such a long neck (Fig. 1). The longer wings of pelagornis show what is typical for a giant volant tetrapod, and Q. sp. comes up short in comparison.

Figure 2. A previously published GIF animation. Q. northropi and Q. sp. compared to Ciconia, the stork, and Pelagornis, the extinct gannet, to scale. That long neck and large skull of Quetzalcoatlus would appear to make it top heavy relative to the volant stork, despite the longer wingspan. Pteranodon and other flying pterosaurs do not have such a large skull at the end of such a long neck (Fig. 1). The longer wings of pelagornis show what is typical for a giant volant tetrapod, and Q. sp. comes up short in comparison.Today we’ll compare the wingspan of the largest Quetzalcoatlus to the largest and more typical Pteranodon species (Fig. 2).

Unfortunately
pterosaur workers refuse to consider taxa known to be flightless, like SOS 2428 (Peters 2018). It’s easy to see why they would be flightless (Fig. 3). Scaled to similar snout/vent lengths with a fully volant pterosaur like n42 (BSPG 1911 I 31) the wing length and chord are both much smaller in the flightless form.

Lateral, ventral and dorsal views of SoS 2428

Figure 3. Lateral, ventral and dorsal views of the flightless SoS 2428 (Peters 2018) alongside No. 42, a volant sister taxon.

Comparing the largest ornithocheirid,
SMNK PAL 1136, to the largest Pteranodon (chimaera of largest skull with largest post-crania in Fig. 4) shows that large flyers have elongate distal phalanges, distinct from body and wing proportions documented in the largest azhdarchids, like Quetzalcoatlus.

Figure 5. Largest Pteranodon to scale with largest ornithocheirid, SMNS PAL 1136.

Figure 4. Largest Pteranodon to scale with largest ornithocheirid, SMNS PAL 1136. Note the long distant wing phalanges on both of these giant flyers. This is what pterosaurs evolve to if they want to continue flying. And this is how big they can get and still fly. Giant azhdarchids exceed all the parameters without having elongate wings. Note: the one on the left has a longer wingspan whir the one on the right has a more massive torso and skull together with more massive proximal wing bones and pectoral girdle. On both the free fingers are tiny, parallel oriented laterally and slightly tucked beneath the big knuckle of the wing finger. The pteroid points directly at the deltopectoral crest. 

As the largest Pteranodon and largest ornithocheirid (SMNS PAL 1136)
(Fig. 4) demonstrate, as flying pterosaurs get larger, they retain elongate distal wing phalanges. And big, robust phalanges they are.

By contrast in azhdarchids and pre-azhdarchids
there is a large size bump after n42 (BSPG 1911 I 31) the fourth wing phalanx either disappears (see Microtuban and Jidapterus) or shrinks to a vestige. Then there’s Zhejiangopterus (Fig. 5), with a big pelvis, gracile forelimbs and a giant skull on a very long neck. Just that neck alone creates such a long lever arm that the pterosaur is incapable of maintaining a center of balance over or near the shoulder joints.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. There are several specimens of Zhejiangopterus. The two pictured in figure 2 are the two smallest above at left. Also shown is a hypothetical hatchling, 1/8 the size of the largest specimen.

Figure 5. There are several specimens of Zhejiangopterus. The two pictured in figure 2 are the two smallest above at left. Also shown is a hypothetical hatchling, 1/8 the size of the largest specimen.

As mentioned earlier, becoming flightless permitted, nay, freed azhdarchid pterosaurs to attain great size. They no longer had to maintain proportions that were flightworthy. Instead they used their shortened strut-like forelimbs to maintain a stable platform in deeper waters. And when they had to move in a hurry, their wings could still provide a tremendous amount of flurry and thrust (Fig. 6) for a speedy getaway.

Quetzalcoatlus running like a lizard prior to takeoff.

Figure 6. Quetzalcoatlus running without taking off, using all four limbs for thrust. That long lever arm extending to the snout tip in front of the center of gravity is not balanced in back of what would be the center of lift over the wings

For the nitpickers out there…
some specimens of Nyctosaurus (UNSM 93000, Fig. 7) also have but three wing phalanges, but they are all robust. The distal one is likely the fourth one because it remains curved. Phalanges 2 and 3 appear to have merged, or one of those was lost. Compare that specimen to a more primitive Nyctosaurus FHSM VP 2148 with four robust wing phalanges.

Figure 5. Cast of the UNSM 93000 specimen of Nyctosaurus. Missing parts are modeled here.

Figure 5. Cast of the UNSM 93000 specimen of Nyctosaurus. Missing parts are modeled here.

References
Peters D 2018. First flightless pterosaur (not peer-reviewed). PDF online.

 

Largest ‘flying reptile’ from the Crato formation? Maybe not.

Cheng et al. 2018
report on a partial wing finger (MPSC R 1221, Fig. 1) that they say represents, “The largest flying reptile from the Crato Formation, Lower Cretaceous, Brazil.”

But is it? 

Figure 1. The as yet undescribed SMNS PAL 1136 specimen is much larger than comparable bones in the new specimen, MPSC R 1221.

Figure 1. The as yet undescribed SMNS PAL 1136 specimen is much larger than comparable bones in the new specimen, MPSC R 1221. If the scale bars are correct, the SMNS specimen is much larger.

No…
if the scale bars are correct. The larger, as yet undescribed, and very impressive SMNS PAL 1136 specimen (Fig. 1) is not mentioned in the text. I do not know if the SMNS specimen is from the Crato or Roualdo formation (I have not gone back to look up that datum). In any case, the authors overlooked this specimen, because it is not mentioned in the text or charts that list a few dozen other large pterosaurs. It should have been included. Of course, then the headline would have read, “…second largest…” and no one wants that.

So was this oversight intentional?
We’ll never know. The SMNS specimen has been in the literature for 24 years (Frey and Martill 1994).

Addendum several days later
The Crato Formation was not erected until 13 years after the 1994 paper by Martill, Bechly and Loveridge. Therefore all layers were considered Santana Formation in 1994. So the SMNS specimen from the Santana formation might have come from the upper or lower layers. It should have been included in the 2018 survey.

The authors conclude
“Based on the fusion of the extensor tendon process and the first wing phalanx and bone histology, MPSC R 1221 presents a subadult individual of a late ontogeny stage (OS5) at time of death, whichmeans that the final maximized wingspan might have been larger. This is corroborated by the osteohistological sections since this individual did not present an external fundamental system.” Look how eager the authors are to hang on to that superlative, ‘largest’, even though we know of at least one that is so much larger.

The authors do not realize
or continue to deny data, that pterosaurs do not follow archosaur fusion patterns during ontogeny—because pterosaurs are not archosaurs, and their fusion patterns follow phylogenetic patterns.

I never heard the term,
“external fundamental system” before. So, I looked it up: “A closely spaced series of lines of arrested growth that is called the External Fundamental System (EFS) indicates that adult size has been reached.” Now we all know!

I hope this blog post
will one day turn out dozens of young paleontologists who will read every paper they see with a seasoned and skeptical eye. If so, a few of you may someday become editors of academic journals or manuscript referees. When that happens, don’t let mistakes like this slip out. Having a website, like ReptileEvolution.com, that is full of data and illustrations, makes it easy to fact-check superlative claims, like this one, with just a few clicks.

On that note:
here (Fig. 2) is a published illustration of a pterosaur wrist from Duque and Barret 2018 with labels that were a little mixed up with regard for the ulna and radius. The referees should have caught this.

Figure 1. From figure 9 from Duque and Barreto 2018 with corrections noted and digit 5 colorized

Figure 2. From figure from Duque and Barreto 2018 with corrections noted and digit 5 colorized. This mistake should have been caught by the authors and referees, not me.

References
Cheng X, Bantim RAM, Sayão JM, Kellner AWA, Wang X and Saraiva AAF 2018. The largest flying reptile from the Crato Formation, Lower Cretaceous, Brazil. Historical Biology. https://doi.org/10.1080/08912963.2018.1491567
Duque RRC and Barret AMF 2018. New exceptionally well-preserved Pterosauria from the lower Cretaceous Araripe Basin, Northeast Brazil. Cretaceous Research 10.1016/j.cretres.2018.05.004
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