STL Science Center

STL Science Center

03 May 2016

Many Tales of Wings

Scaphognathus at more than one time (seven times total) was synonymized with other pterosaurian remains. Always remaining the oldest specimen, however, means that the name Scaphognathus remains the name that we know today. Considering that Goldfuss first described Scaphognathus in 1831it is not hard to believe that it is the oldest of the synonyms. One of the latest descriptions that was given the name Scaphognathus actually was determined to be distinctly different and was therefore renamed Parapsicephalus. Some of the descriptions attributed to Scaphognathus and strange unknown sights may have led to the very interesting and highly implausible cryptozoological assertion that Scaphognathus was alive and flying in the 17th century. It was stated that archaeology and science backed up the idea that the animal was alive and that the initial description of Goldfuss was based on a somewhat recently deceased individual, compared to other fossils. I share the paper making these assertions only because it is important to see the difference between science and speculation. The paper mentions evidence based on 17th century drawings and stories, but there is no actual evidence pointing to live pterosaurs during that time. Instead, we have descriptions of the fossil that are anatomically correct and scientifically skeptical; that is, the experimentations and protocols followed to produce the work have a heavy weight of evidence behind them. These include a number of articles but the best paper on Scaphognathus entirely is a description of the cranial morphology of a specimen that was recovered from the Solnhofen of Germany in 2014, the first place that a fossil of Scaphognathus was recovered. This description was informed by the 2004 paper, also by Bennett, detailing what was ten years prior new insights on an older specimen of the genus.

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