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

The Long Tail of Jeholopterus, the Vampire Pterosaur

Tradition holds that anurognathid pterosaurs had a very short tail, even a pygostyle, like that of a bird. Sure the individual bones are shorter and some become almost bead-like. Sometimes they’re very hard to see unless you spend time looking for them. They’re almost always articulated, but often preserved in a random swirl, like a beaded necklace dropped on a bed. Here are some data.

FIgure 1. The tail of Jeholopterus in situ.

FIgure 1. The tail of Jeholopterus in situ.

All anurognathid tails are gracile vestiges of once mighty robust tails, like the one attributed to Dimorphodon.

Tracing of Jeholopterus using DGS.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. Tracing of Jeholopterus using DGS. Dorsal view of Jeholopterus based on the tracing. 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 as shown here. 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. Note the wing membrane shape, just like other pterosaurs, narrow at the elbow, able to be folded up virtually completely.

Jeholopterus in dorsal view
When a fossil preserves so much soft tissue, as Jeholopterus does, sometimes bones are hidden beneath soft tissue. This is the case with the palatal elements, which have been sloughed off to the left, beneath neck fibers. The windpipe (trachea) followed them.

The tail
Due to its many tiny elements and lack of stiffening elements, the caudal series of Jeholopterus would have been very flexible. Earlier we looked at the intraspecific communications possibilities in stiff pterosaur tails tipped with a large vane. A large vaned tail vane could also have been used like arrow fletching, keeping the tail in line with the flight path. A small, flexible beaded tail would not have had the mass to greatly affect the flight path of the anurognathid and did not sport a large vane. Keeping the tail off the ground, perhaps in a graceful curl, or weaving it like a fly-fishing line was likely selected for, perhaps as a secondary sexual trait. It seems unlikely that the tail hung limp.

The femur was held parasagittally. 
Note the right angle femoral head. This would have produced a dinosaur-like configuration while walking and would have limited horizontal extension while flying, creating, at best, an inverted V-tail, like that of a Predator drone.

Jeholopterus in lateral view. This image supersedes others in having the coracoids extending laterally and other minor modifications.

Figure 1. Jeholopterus in lateral view. This image supersedes others in having the coracoids extending laterally and other minor modifications. The long hair (shown at a minimum here) goes beyond insulation, unless it also insulated Jeholopterus from biting insects.

Different than other anurognathids
Jeholopterus has a relatively smaller head and more robust body than other anurognathids. The robust palate is uniquely designed to distribute force lines from the two front puncturing teeth back to the sides and rear of the otherwise very fragile skull. The claws are sharper, longer and more curved. The sternal complex is much smaller. The tail is longer. Metatarsal 5 is longer. So is pedal digit 5. Clearly this anurognathid is distinct from the others.

Earlier we talked about the strong possibility that it was a feeder on the same blood and wounds on dinosaur hide that insects were attracted to. As a blood-lapper, Jeholopterus would be classified as a vampire.

The modified reconstruction includes a laterally oriented coracoid, lowering the shoulder glenoid. This would direct the pectoralis muscles to pull directly medially, helping lodge the surgically curved claws medially when stepping onto dino skin for a bite.

As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.

Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.

References
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 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

The Vampire Pterosaur Controversy: Science vs. Politics

Pterosaur expert, Dr. Mark Witton, recently rejected the concept of a vampire pterosaur, which was recently making the rounds. He also denounced and dismissed the validity of the DGS (digital graphic segregation) method in toto here at his blog, pterosaur.net.

Unfortunately, Mark provided no evidence (otherwise known as science) to back up his claims. Rather he relied only on majority support (otherwise known as politics). His points (verbatim):

  • The [vampire] idea [Peters 2003] was not peer reviewed, and it’s publication in a collection of conference abstracts is not of comparable standing to other hypotheses of anurognathid palaeoecology
  • There was never any ‘debate’ amongst pterosaur workers on this idea: it was never considered credible by qualified researchers in the first instance, and rejected outright from the start.
  • There is no evidence that Jeholopterus, or any other pterosaur, was a vampire
  • There is no ‘David Peters vs. Goliath’ story here. DP’s work is considered with the same scrutiny, not more or less, than any other piece of science. His ideas are rejected by other palaeontologists (amateur and professional alike, the only difference between many of whom is that some are paid to study fossils) because they have not stood up to this scrutiny.

You’ll note this all sounds pretty damning. You may also note, there’s no contrary evidence presented here, only a majority vote based on paradigm and opinion.

Point by point – [refer each to bullets listed above]
1. Indeed, abstracts are not considered to have equal weight as papers, but they are cited nevertheless. Ironically, every abstract I have submitted since 2003 has been rejected. I find that unusual, especially if they are not peer-reviewed. Having peer-review does not make a paper perfect and unassailable. Many papers have only a few to several errors, which is why pterosaurheresies.com exists and why several papers written by several other paleontolgists “reexamine” and “reappraise” many fossils. Re: anurognathid palaeoecology: The Bennett (2007) paper on the flathead anurognathid is chock-full of errors and inventions, all listed here.

2. “Never any debate” [on the vampire concept]? That means, of course, that my voice apparently doesn’t count as one side of the debate (despite several published papers) and I am not a “pterosaur worker.” Mark’s comment, “rejected outright from the start,” should also raise an eyebrow. “Outright from the start” means, of course, there was no scientific inquiry, no patient duplication of the methods on Jeholopterus and certainly no counter-evaluation. Certainly no competing interpretations of Jeholopterus have ever been sent to me for comment. So, again, where’s the science here? Where’s the discussion?

I want my errors to be pointed out. Where they have been, I appreciate it and make whatever changes are necessary. Do others ever acknowledge errors? Not if I point them out (at least so far). I also give credit where credit is due, even when pointing out minor errors, as in by reexamination of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs (Peters 2009) in which I pointed out achievements and errors made earlier by Dr. Bennett.

3. The comment, “There is no evidence…” followed by any statement whatsoever is exactly what one hears in creationist arguments against evolution. That’s a shame. It would have been more scientific if Mark would have presented another interpretation, starting with an in situ tracing that we could argue about point by point. I only came up with the vampire concept after examining every aspect of Jeholopterus, including the palate, which is uniquely designed to transmit impact forces to the sides and rear of the skull and the claws which were uniquely hyper-curved like surgical needles for adhesion.

4. The comment “His ideas are rejected by other paleontologists…because they have not stood up to this scrutiny.” That’s a pretty broad brush. Does that mean ALL my ideas? Sounds like it. Even those that were published in peer-reviewed journals? And when it’s one against the rest, as Mark defined it, it is “David vs. Goliath,” by definition. If they get to referee my papers and I don’t get to referee theirs’, by definition that is an imbalance in power.

I will confess to making many mistakes in science. That happens to everyone, especially with pterosaurs! New data comes in and old interpretations need updating and revising. In fact, I corrected a tiny palate element on Jeholopterus just this morning because I realized it had probably gotten knocked off its mooring during taphonomy because it did not match the connection seen in other sister taxa.

I posted a considerate response to Mark’s comments on Pterosaurnet.net. Let’s see if gets approved and makes a difference to Mark’s perception of this impasse.

My response in brief:
In the nine years since the Jeholopterus abstract no one else has re-interpreted the skull and sent it to me for discussion.

Mark prefers the Bennett (2007) model of the flathead anurognathid (a sister taxon) with errors detailed here and here.

Jeholopterus in lateral view. This image supersedes others in having the coracoids extending laterally and other minor modifications.

Figure 1. Jeholopterus in lateral view. This image supersedes others in having the coracoids extending laterally and other minor modifications.

I present evidence that passes many tests including symmetry, fit within a reconstruction and phylogenetic similarity to sister taxa. I hope someone who disagrees with my reconstructions can do the same. Certainly Bennett’s (2007) interpretation of his anurognathid, the one preferred by Dr. Witton, does not pass these tests. Bennett (2007) himself admits to making up some of the elements he was unable to find using traditional observational methods.

Bottom line: Hey, facts are facts.
Both sides should present facts, not opinions. It would have been better if Mark showed, “Here’s why Jeholopterus is not a vampire.” This business about, “no evidence,” doesn’t help at all.

References
Peters D 2003. The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures.
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 23(3):87
Peters D 2009. A Reinterpretation of Pteroid Articulation in Pterosaurs – Short Communication. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(4):1327–1330, December 2009

Pterosaur.net