STL Science Center

STL Science Center

22 September 2017

Looking Similar

Peteinosaurus illustrations are like many pterosaur illustrations in that they all look very similar and very often depict a flying reptile with wings spread and mouth open. The less popular version, which still turns up fairly often, depicts the pterosaur in question sitting on a branch or the ground ready to vault into the air. Somewhere in between there are hunting and swooping images. This image by Nobu Tamura captures the moment after swooping and chasing and the moments before our friendly Peteinosaurus would be ready to again launch (or fall) from the branch to take to the air once more.

20 September 2017

Headless Pterosaurs

Despite well preserved slab fossils, not a single specimen of Peteinosaurus possessed an intact skull or any skull actually. The teeth of Peteinosaurus are known somehow, though. Three types of conical teeth are associated with the pterosaur and their shape indicated an insect based diet. The teeth and diet of Peteinosaurus are not the most unique characteristics of the fossils though. The fifth toe on each foot was elongated and had lost its claw. The toe possessed a joint that was different from the other toes of the foot. This joint allowed the fifth two to move in ways that enabled movements of the cruropatagium, the skin between the ankles, that acts as an airfoil. In a way, this structure acts like the retrices, tail feathers, of birds allowing for more precise control of flight movements. Some birds, bats, and pterosaurs like Peteinosaurus need precise control of their flights capabilities for aerial hunting in order to maintain pursuits. This cruropatagium most likely worked very much like a Barn Swallow's tail, as can be seen here:

19 September 2017

Flying Literature

The literature history of pterosaurs is quite extensive. Peteinosaurus is not neglected in that rich history either. The paper naming and describing Peteinosaurus is difficult to find online, but luckily I know where to find it. One of the most prolific pterosaur researchers of our time keeps an updated bibliography of all pterosaur research and an archive of available PDF files of the studies he has collected over the years. Rupert Wild's 1978 opus "Die Flugsaurier (Reptilia, Pterosauria) aus der Oberen Trias von Cene bei Bergamo, Italien" is only available in the original German, despite its publication in the Italian publication Bolletino della Societa Paleontologica Italiana. The study is a review of six fossil genera discovered in and around Bergamo, Italy and includes descriptive text alongside photographs of specimens and line drawings highlighting important structures from the fossils and their photographs. This is not the only review of Italian or Triassic pterosaurs featuring Peteinosaurus though. Fabio Dalla Vecchia's review of Italian pterosaurs is hosted in English and possesses a similar amount of detail, though not as much as Wild's review. However, if reading German is not something that one can do quickly or in their spare time in the near future, the descriptions of Dalla Vecchia are more than sufficient. Many of the other articles that are published which heavily feature Peteinosaurus are themselves reviews and new descriptions. Therefore, these two highly detailed descriptions of Peteinosaurus are more than enough to read today.

18 September 2017

Supporting Character on Wings

First and foremost, here is a link to the episode of Dinosaur Train that introduced "Petey the Peteinosaurus" (there are a number of versions of this but this is the only full episode that is not flipped horizontally). The first episode of the original "Walking with..." series was about dinosaurs specifically and mentioned supporting characters like Peteinosaurus (and mammals and amphibians) in passing. Peteinosaurus, however, benefited, in terms of the show, by existing during the Triassic dawn of the dinosaurs. The first episode of Walking with Dinosaurs focuses extensively on the environment that fostered the rise of the dinosaurs. This environment was populated by various protomammals and archosaurs, one of which was the "exotic hunter... Peteinosaurus" as Kenneth Branagh describes it. The short blurb about the flying reptile is not an enormous portion of the episode, but we know that Peteinosaurus is an important member of its environment. Its hypothesized role can be seen clearly in the show, as can its acrobatic capabilities.

17 September 2017

Two Movies

Peteinosaurus appears in a few television roles, but only one is relevant today. There is a second video that is relevant to today in that it relays facts and shows some relevant illustrations of the flying reptile. The cartoon that is relevant today is, as it usually is on a Sunday, a short clip from the PBS show Dinosaur Train. As usual, the alliterative name of the Peteinosaurus in this episode is Petey. The clip attached here, however, is just Dr. Scott talking about facts like height and weight of Peteinosaurus and not a portion from the actual episode with Petey in it.
The second video clip is from WizScience and is nothing but straight facts and a single view of one of the fossil slabs containing Peteinosaurus material.

16 September 2017

Flying Fun

Aerial acrobatics in the days of the dinosaurs were not conducted by birds or bats, not early on at least. During the Triassic there were a number of small reptiles capable of flight, the pterosaurs. One of the smallest, oldest, pterosaurs of the Triassic was Peteinosaurus zambelli. This small pterosaur had a wingspan of approximately 60 cm (24 in), one of the smallest known for pterosaurs, and weighed about the same as a Common Blackbird (or American Robin for North American readers). Known from fossils from northern Italy, Peteinosaurus has been well preserved mainly on three slabs of material that house very flat and fragile specimens. This is not abnormal for pterosaurs as they possessed very strong but light bones. Peteinosaurus is slightly abnormal for pterosaurs in that it is known to have possessed three different types of teeth (called tridontomorphy). These teeth were used for catching insects and hypothesized features of the manus and wing may have been highly suited to permit precision aerodynamic control of the pterosaur in flight, meaning that at least some of the insects Peteinosaurus hunted may have been flying meals.

14 September 2017

A Furry Star

Whenever any fossil is found in a level of completeness like that of Castorocauda it becomes a little bit more famous than other fossil animals. Sometimes this popular knowledge of a taxon remains and continues onward for centuries (T. rex, etc.) and sometimes it lasts mere moments (Morganucodon, perhaps, for the non-professional readers). Castorocauda appears to have retained some of its initial popularity, but has generally been mostly lost to the public over the past decade. In that time, however, Dinosaur Revolution and Dinosaur Train both capitalized on the discovery and description of this small swimming mammal. Arguably, Dinosaur Train did a much better job of describing and showing the features of Castorocauda, as we can see in the clip below. Dinosaur Revolution mentioned some of the characteristics of Castorocauda, but these were largely ignored in its animation. The tail and overall body shape can be seen clearly, but the show depicts Castorocauda running through a forest and into a hollow tree whereas the Dinosaur Train scene below takes place at the edge of a marshy lake possibly like the area from which the nearly complete Castorocauda fossil was recovered. Granted Dinosaur Train is much more educational and thoroughly proves it by comparing mammals against mammals and mammals against dinosaurs and pterosaurs as well as describing the characteristics of Castorocauda in great detail (for a kid's show).