STL Science Center

STL Science Center

14 March 2012

You're Doing It Wrong

The first preparation of Cearadactylus was a tragic affair. The lower jaw was assembled backwards and upside down. I am sure this is not too difficult a mistake to make with no training, though I cannot say how trained the original preparator was. No crests were present on the ends of the jaws and the teeth were not exactly scientifically accurate. The second preparation fixed all of these mistakes and was given a 13 foot wingspan until 1991 when Wellnhofer reanalyzed the animal and estimated wingspan at 18 feet. This prepared specimen was estimated to weigh in at 33 pounds. The classification of Cearadactylus has gone through a series of changes and the discoverer, Leonardi, never even assigned a family to the animal in its initial discovery. Unwin would later play Cearadactylus in the Ctenochasmatidae while Kellner decided it is closely related to the Anhangueridae but was missing a crest found in that family. This family is now called Ornithocheiridae and using Unwin's 2006 ordering of the family it is questionable if Cearadactylus belongs in the family. It's a bit on the crazy side.

To add to that craziness a second species named Cearadactylus ligabuei was described in 1993 from a nearly destroyed specimen, its skull was glued together after having been thoroughly crushed, which may or may not be assembled from multiple species. It has gone through a number of reviews, but rather than try to describe how each person arrived at each conclusion, here's a short encyclopedia summation of the second species' classification history:
Dalla Vecchia assigned C. ligabuei to the Cearadactylidae. Kellner concluded it was probably a member of Anhangueridae; Unwin in 2002 even named it Anhanguera ligabuei. Steel e.a. (2005) suggested it was a Coloborhynchus ligabuei.
Typically now it is not included at all in the Cearadactylus genus, and that seems quite fair from what I have seen, so I have no personal objections to there only being one species in the genus!

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