STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 March 2012

Quetzalcoatlus in Flight

©Mark Witton
 Quetzalcoatlus is not often shown on the ground like they are in this illustration. There have been skeletons posed in a quadrupedal stance on the ground, but typically they are not illustrated as animals that can even be on the ground let alone animals that live on the ground at any point in time ever. However, to go in line with the theory that these large pterosaurs ate small animals whole or in small torn up bites, they would have to find the ground at some point as their feet were not made for grasping and carrying prey items. Witton, here, has gone with that theory of prey items, the small baby Alamosaurus making a rather tasty snack it would appear to our Quetzalcoatlus foragers. Other theories, other than the piscivorous diet have also been put forward. One theory holds that Quetzalcoatlus may have been a strainer feeder, like modern ducks except instead of settling on the water and dabbling Quetzalcoatlus would have swooped low like a frigate bird and scooped then siphoned water to strain out plankton and other small creatures for consumption.

©Raul Martin
The reason that I have included the Martin and Shiraishi illustrations in flight today are because they are extremely similar and notably different at the exact same time in ways that are very important anatomically. The ways they are similar are, naturally, their large clear wingspan and the gliding nature of their flight. Granted the pterosaurs had the ability to flap their wings but a gentle glide is typically mentioned as the preferred mode of flight for most pterosaurs given the lesser chest muscles in comparison to modern birds which pterosaurs possessed. The major difference in these two animals as illustrated is their crests. There is preserved bony crest associated with some of the finds attributed to Quetzalcoatlus, however, the full crest of very few pterosaurs is actually known given that the soft tissue above, around, or protruding from the boney appendage could look like anything.

©M. Shiraishi
Shiraishi opted for a long backward protruding crest which is highly typical of pterosaurs, and quite stylish as well. Martin's illustration went with a buzzcut-like crest. The actual boney protuberance looks much closer to the illustration done by Witton, however, according to all of the skeletons that have been shown on display that I have found. Regardless, both Martin and Shiraishi's illustrations are equally well done.

30 March 2012

King of the Flying Reptiles

Taken by myself at the Houston Museum of Science
Quetzalcoatlus northropi. Largest of the flying reptiles. Named for the feathered serpent god of Aztec tradition Quetzalcoatl, this giant has a wingspan as large as 36 feet. That wingspan is as large as many small planes. Weight has been estimated between 250 - 450 lbs for Quetzalcoatlus depending on the source and method used. Not much is agreed upon overall for the family Azhdarchidae, of which Quetzalcoatlus is a member.Another animal may be synonymous or another species of Quetzalcoatlus, but it seems the jury is still out or maybe just hung about whether or not Hatzegopteryx thambema is the same or a new species. The first specimens were found in Texas in 1971 by Douglas A. Lawson. The diet of these monsters was most likely fish and small animals, such as babies, that could be swallowed whole as they did not have toothed beaks. Lawson, in fact, rejects fish eating entirely in his studies of the reptile.

29 March 2012

Germanodactylus: Not Very Popular

Germanodactylus is, as the title says, not very popular. As I am sure we almost all recall, there were no toys, no videos, no coloring pages, and nothing else of significant value either this week. I wish it were not that way, but there simply is not much popular culture reference made to this flying reptile. Therefore, today, I leave you with little to read and less to look at, unfortunately. Here are fossils of each species to look at though:
G. rhamphastinus

G. cristatus

28 March 2012

Unspecialized Delivery

G. rhamphastinus

Germanodactylus has been described as an "unspecialized pterosaur" meaning that it does not appear to have been specifically adapted to any one purpose such as long flight, preying on fast moving insects, or being an exceptional low level glider. As such, it has been nestled in many different places by many different people over the years as a genus including Germanodactylidae (Yang Zhongjian), Pterodactylidae (Bennett), Pterodactylus (Kellner), and a basal dsungaripteroid (Unwin). Zhongjian's family Germanodactylidae has, for the moment, become the home of the genus however.This family includes two other genera, Normannognathus and Tendaguripterus. One thing that has caused some debate in the genus is that G. cristatus has a beak full of short conical teeth whereas G. rhamphastinus has a beak that does not have any teeth in the tip of its beak and fewer on each side of the beak. Those teeth and the sharpness of their beaks are the majority of evidence that separate Germanodactylus from other genera of pterosaurs. The long and short of the whole genus is that they are pretty basic and, as far as science is concerned, very generic pterosaurs.
G. cristatus

27 March 2012

Important Papers in Recent Time

The farther back in time we go searching for papers the less likely we are to find a copy of any given paper online. I think we all know this. A rather large library or library network is the place to find really old papers in anthologies or microfiche (do libraries still carry that stuff?). At any rate, we have been lucky when it comes to Germanodactylus in the recent literature. In the past ten years two important papers were written by Dr. Chris Bennett which studied juvenile specimens and the soft tissue portions of the crest of Germanodactylus. The study of the juvenile Germanodactylus is important for a number of reasons. The first being that the erroneously assigned Solnhofen skeletons are now correctly assigned to the correct genus and species. The second reason is that the life stage development of any prehistoric species of critter is very important to our overall understanding of how the prehistoric world lived and functioned prior to the event of written observation in human beings. Third, this study explains a great deal about the development of the skull's crest and how it did not present itself in juveniles of the genus.

The second paper about soft tissue in the crest of Germanodactylus is very particular and specific in its focus, however, understanding and visualizing the soft tissue which is not preserved has always been an important and fundamental desire of almost every paleontologist and that makes this paper particularly important. The specimen, in the words of Dr. Bennett, is "a scrappy specimen" and is unprepared and basically appears as a slab in a wooden frame and it was someone's job to sort out the details, not the collector's. You can see some additional images of the specimen here including two UV photographs of the soft tissue area of the crest.

26 March 2012

Slideshow Monday

As of yet Germanodactylus has not appeared in any noteworthy documentaries. This and the lack of other pterosaurs from documentaries really makes me want to spearhead a documentary on pterosaurs. Makes me wish I knew rich people and a lot more scientists a lot better than I do know the ones I know. Regardless, there is one "video" that is a lot more slideshow and music than it is anything else, and I can share that at least today. I wish I had more to share on the subject in movie form. Even the one Walking With... episode called "Giants of the Skies" lacks Germanodactylus, which of course was not really so giant actually.

25 March 2012

Lacking Information on the Finger

Germanodactylus is what I have come to term an animal as "unfriendly to children" which does not necessarily mean that it is mean or evil or anything else anywhere close to that meaning at all for that matter. What it means is that Germanodactylus is yet another of an ever growing list that I have found, yet not compiled, of prehistoric critters which have very little and sometimes, as in the case of Germanodactylus, no representation online on any sites which cater to children in any way, shape, or form. That's not an awful thing, of course, but it is difficult to present coloring pages, toys, and other childhood related items to the readers when none exist. There is one book out there, Monster Fliers by Elizabeth MacLeod, geared more toward kids that may be interesting if one could find a copy and there is also Cliff Green Studios which makes large scale models of extinct and living creatures. I do not believe, however, that many people will want to by a "toy" as big as this one!

On a slightly unrelated note- though related to children- the Memphis Zoo has opened up their dinosaur exhibit for the Spring and Summer recently and, being on Spring Break, my wife and I went this past week. The photos are posted on my photography site A Blast from the Past Photo Journey. Please, look around at what was on exhibit.

24 March 2012

Always a Little Guesswork

©Paulo Marcio
Paulo Marcio created this rather large, the downloaded image is 3493x2783, image of Europasaurus and Germanodactylus as part of an art contest for the Museum of Germany. It's very colorful and has a good sense of wonderment to it and, with its rather large size, has exquisite fine details. One thing that would make our specialist friends in the field of the pterosauria highly critical, I believe, would be the wing details. The crest is, for sure, larger than most fossil evidence I have seen, however, as noted in Bennett's paper on soft tissue in Germanodactylus crests (which we will get to later this week), the crest was probably larger in adult than in juvenile specimens and therefore we can account that detail to the inclusion of full adult Germanodactylus (Germanodactyli? Germanodactyluses?) in this image. The cause for this criticism, I believe, may rest in the posterior portion of the wing attaching to the knees of the reptiles with a membrane between the legs as well. However, some may not be critical of this as I have seen the argument in both directions; that wings did do this and that wings did not do this and even heard mention that these styles of wing attachment are far too bat-like to be realistic. This not being my area of expertise, I would rather not have an opinion at the moment on the construction of pterosaur wings... maybe I'll develop one later!

©Joao Boto
Joao Boto's crest I am a little concerned about I have to admit. All of the Germanodactylus crests I have seen in papers and scientific illustrations so far are very flattened and rising off of the nasal then looping back gently to reattach in the post-occipital region; very stereotypical looping on a pterosaur crest really for the most part in what I have seen. Some examples I have seen, of juveniles if we go by Bennett's conclusion that small crests are evidenced in juveniles while large crests can be found in adults, look almost as though they are nothing but raised ridges following the midline of the skull from nares to the orbit; the orbit on these pterosaurs being rather large and a post-orbital fenestra not appearing it seems. Regardless, Boto's crest is enormous and only appears to be seated above a rather forward situated orbit. The look of it to me, as an animal that does not support a great deal of weight directly above its eyes, looks like it would be awkward and difficult to manage during flight. As a rudder during flight even the slightest rotation of the skull would change directions which I suppose with a crest like this may be beneficial but I could also imagine it may be mortally hazardous in a long slow glide above water to spear at near-surface swimming fish. Then again, as stated previously this month, the effect of a head crest as a rudder on a pterosaur may be a great deal less than what I think it is. Either way, the UV photos of Germanodactylus I have seen have far less prominent crests than Boto's illustration, see the outline of soft tissue below:

23 March 2012

The German Finger

G. rhamphastinus©Dmitry Bogdanov
First and foremost, I love the way Dmitry Bogdanov colors his prehistoric critters. I cannot say what it is exactly, but it just makes me cheerful to see his artwork and the lively way they are colored in. I think it has something to do with the way it doesn't necessarily look digital or painted, almost like it's pastel or colored pencil. Anyhow, allow us all to introduce ourselves to a much smaller and smaller ornamented pterosaur named Germanodactylus. Germanodactylus, type specimen and species name Germanodactylus cristatus (originally Pteradactylus cristatus) and a debated second species named Germanodactylus rhamphastinus (being an older specimen originally known as Ornithocephalus and now thought to be, potentially, changed to Daitingopterus).

Germanodactylus species were raven sized with G. rhamphastinus being slightly larger than a raven and thus slightly larger than G. cristatus. Both species had crests upon their heads constructed of both bone and soft tissue and both portions have been evidenced in the fossil record. In 2002 S. Christopher Bennett produced a paper which described for the first time the soft tissue evidence of the fossil record. Bennett has additionally created arguments which confirm both species as valid in the genus, however, he was not the first to study the genus or the two species. The species were originally named P. cristatus in 1925 by Carl Wiman and Ornithocephalus in 1851 by Johann Andreas Wagner. Wagner's Ornithocephalus was added to Germanodactylus by Wellnhofer in 1970.

22 March 2012

The Fun Side of Tupuxuara

Tupuxuara, besides being an interesting genus of flying reptile, has some interesting collectibles and popular mediums in which it appears. We know that it does not appear on television or in documentaries, but it does show up in toys, models to be specific, and we have seen that before in the video shared earlier in the week. One video we haven't watched until today is that of a flying model of Tupuxuara. The flapping is a bit faster than the actual animal would have gone through of course, but it's an awesome model of it. The Japanese man flying it in the video has made multiple versions of Tupuxuara as well as other extinct flying reptiles and living birds.

There is also a really neat book of mazes that you can look for if so inclined. The Google result is here, and the Amazon search result is here.

21 March 2012

Finding the Tupuxuara

The Cretaceous Santana Formation of Brazil yielded the first specimen of the genus Tupuxuara back in the 1980's. The snout of the skull along with some partial wing bones were described by Alexander Kellner and Diogenes de Almeida Campos in 1988. Later remains recovered from the area point to differences in the flying reptile based on age and sex and have contributed to the overall picture of the animal. In the 1990's a second species was described from a partial skull with a much more rounded crest by Kellner. Another decade brought the third species into being described when, in 2009, Mark Witton described T. deliradamus. This species was also described off a partial skull but this one had a diamond shape opening in the skull and that, along with Witton's favorite band Pink Floyd, gave the species its name which means "crazy diamond"; an allusion to both the shape and the Pink Floyd song "Shine on You Crazy Diamond". The genus belongs to the group Azhdarchoidea. Kellner has related it to the Tapejara family, but others feel it belongs further from that family and closer to the core branch of Azhdarchoidea which includes Quetzalcoatlus. In these infographics, Tupuxuara is only shown in the Tapejara, but you decide which group it's closer to for yourself:

Both images borrowed from

20 March 2012

Quick and Easy

Today we have two articles which pop up readily during searches. As I have somewhere to be this morning, I cannot really spend a whole lot of time describing the articles, but one is an abstract only, without paying, on crest formation by David Martill and Darren Naish. The abstract looks good so I'll bet the whole paper is an interesting read, but I can't pay for it right this second. The second paper I found is a Mark Witton paper which allows you to see the abstract and illustrations as well. This paper names T. deliradamus and the illustrations show the newly found skull of this new species. There are more papers about the genus in existence, but they are not any more readily available than these two papers are, sadly.

19 March 2012

Not Quite A Star

Tupuxuara is a known reptile, but not a "filmed" reptile. This is okay, considering how few dinosaurs and paleo-critters have been shown in documentaries and movies it's not a big deal really. However, there are two videos that I would share today. One is simply an all around view of Sideshow Dinosauria's model Tupuxuara
and the other is a very simplified test run of animation which, though much simpler than the actual mechanics of flight would have been, can give us some minor view of the glide path of Tupuxuara.

3D Pterosaurus animation from Dániel Hermánn on Vimeo.

18 March 2012

Missing Evidence

As of today we have more hits this month than any other month since I started writing exclusively about dinosaurs and paleobiology.

Tupuxuara is one of the paleo-critters we discuss which is totally void of children related links on the internet. There is some talk on Dinosaur King sites, but nothing substantial which guarantees information about Tupuxuara or videos related to the animal, which is what it is, but is sad for the future generations. There are no coloring sheets either unless one would like to print out Tuomas Koivurinne's illustration used yesterday and color that, which I am sure he wouldn't mind as long as you didn't post it online or gave him ample credit. You can ask him yourself on any one of his websites (I typically talk to him through DeviantArt, but he also has a Blogger profile).

17 March 2012

3 Species of Tupuxuara

©M. Shiraishi
Tupuxuara as a genus contains three species; T. longicristatus, T. leonardii, and T. deliradamus. All three species have long rear swept crests on top of their heads. Typically, however, the only illustrated models that we see are of T. longicristatus. This species has a high bulbous crest extending behind the skull beginning with a forward attachment site above and forward of the nares on the nasal bone of the skull. These crests swooped backwards at a fairly consistent angle until it was above the shoulders of the pterosaur. The crest then arced back down in a large oval shape to attach again at the rear of the skull on the post occipital. The coloration of such crests is barely if at all known or evident in fossil evidence, and so the illustrations we have could all be completely correct or completely incorrect.

©Tuomas Koivurinne
T. leonardii's crest is slightly different. The crest follows the same general lines of design and formation, however, it is not as smooth as the crest of T. longicristatus. The lower trailing edge of the crest above the shoulders is not as rounded either. The body shape of the three species overall is very similar with the wings very much alike in all lines indicating that the crest was the largest difference in flight mechanics. The crest may not have been really used in flight, but any small head motion in a high wind situation would cause deviation from straight level flight with the crests of these species as they would have diverted airflow. In fact, if the head was used to aid in flight at all, it would have made a very spectacular rudder system.

The last species, T. deliradamus, has the shortest crest by far. The crest actually only truly begins as separate from the regular skull bones in the occipital area but the end of the loop of the crest is the same as the other two species. If the head is indeed used as a rudder in flight then T. deliradamus would have had the flight with the most control at high speeds as only slight movements of the head would be required in order to adjust the flight path of the animals.

16 March 2012

The Tupi People

From David Hone's blog with Mark Witton as guest writer.
I have been searching for about a half hour for the meaning of Tupuxuara longicristatus. The Latin species name means long crested, nothing funky there at all. The generic name, however, comes from the Tupi people and the only reference I have seen is that it has something to do with a familiar spirit, a familiar being this guy here. At any rate, the Tupi, and Tupuxuara, come from Brazil. Tupuxuara, unlike the Tupi, was discovered in 1988 and named and described by Alexander Kellner as lead author. A second species also described by Kellner was discovered in 1994, so this genus possesses two valid species, until 2009 that is. In that recent year Mark Witton described a third species bringing us up to have T. longicristatus Kellner & Campos, 1988, T. leonardii Kellner, 1994, and T. deliradamus Witton, 2009. Tupuxuara is the first pterosaur of Pterosaur Month that was a toothless flying reptile. It is also the first with good evidence presented in the form of scleral rings which show a diurnal lifestyle.

15 March 2012

The Unfortunate Appearance

Cearadactylus does make an entrance in the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, as previously noted. The only other major venue under which Cearadactylus has headlined is, I am sorry to say, one of the later Land Before Time installments. While these probably do entertain children they have become a veritable source of mockery over the years with the original remaining one of the only installments anyone admits to owning. I own the original and I know it backwards as well as forward, but I never have nor will own any that came after and have not been able to sit through an entire installment. That is not to say that there are not those who love and value it, but they certainly are not me. Where Cearadactylus appears in the series is as a villain named Sierra in The Land Before Time VII. As yet it does not appear on Dinosaur Train, Dinosaur King, or Dino Dan; the three current dinosaur/paleo related children's shows on television. Should they continue long enough on the air, I am sure that Cearadactylus will eventually put in an appearance on at least one of these shows. There is also the animatronic Polish Dinosaur Park that I think I nodded towards also:

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!

13 March 2012

Cearadactylus Papers

The papers pertaining to Cearadactylus are numerous and many topics relating to the animal can be found all over the internet. The majority of these papers are not fully available to the public for free, which can be both sad and frustrating if one is really wanting to read about Cearadactylus. However, the abstracts are always available and will tell you if you really want to read that article anyway. As such, here are a few interesting abstracts on papers by Unwin and a full article by Veldmeijer which discusses a pterosaur that seems eerily similar to Cearadactylus and is also from Brazil. Either way, even without reading full articles all the time, one can find some quality illustrations online anywhere that come from the articles such as this:

12 March 2012

Cearadactylus Videos

Time change Mondays are always difficult to handle; going back to work with your brain used to a different time set is a lot like jet lag. Cearadactylus very unseen pterosaur, which is fairly odd given its literary history. Cearadactylus was given a nod in the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton as the pterosaur of choice in the aerial dome which Dr. Grant and the children must traverse via the river. That scene was cut completely from the Spielberg film but acknowledged in the third film with a rather more chaotic encounter. Some say the third movie is not anywhere near as good as the first two, but I liked it, so I have a slightly different opinion. However, as far as video is concerned, there is a dinosaur park in Poland where an animatronic Cearadactylus sits guarding a nest that someone has been kind enough to film
and as far as Jurassic Park is concerned, you can judge for yourself how close the movie stayed to the original animals in the book (it's not close, but it's enjoyable anyhow).

11 March 2012

Cearadactylus for Children?

There's really just this coloring page here. It's well done, distinguishable from other coloring pages of pterosaurs, which is nice because that means it is at least a little accurate. Actually, it appears fairly well done. The only issue I have is that it has the website's name splashed across it no matter what you do. They do have a nice little info page, stress on the "little" part, about Cearadactylus that is child friendly. The other site I'm very happy with is Big Time Attic, which is a blog run by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon who do pretty awesome, though not scientifically perfect, illustrations of dinosaurs for books. Their image of Cearadactylus is awesome regardless and they seem like pretty fun guys. Check out this Cearadactylus:

Additionally, I'm a big fact hound and number cruncher, so every day I look at where the hits and searches and articles are on this blog that bring readers to share this knowledge, and I have to give a big thanks to those folks that come in from Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. You folks, along with everyone else that reads what I post, have raised the numbers of March in 10 1/2 days past all of February's visits by at least 300 views now and that's awesome! Additionally, in January I changed the URL and page views went way down and they're now on their way back up in part thanks to the above as well as continued interest in paleo-sciences the world over by adults and children alike. Thank you everyone for helping me to share something I love with the world!

10 March 2012

Two Picture Saturday

The skull of Cearadactylus is not one hundred percent known. However, the parts that are known point to a very typical pterosaur skull; elongated and light. The teeth that have been found in the portions of the skull found show to be a fearsome set of pencil shaped teeth. The alignment of the teeth appear to indicate its diet quite easily as they do in many other ancient animals. These teeth point to a highly piscivorous diet as does the kink in the upper jaw of the skull. As can be noted by other skulls like that of Spinosaurus and Baryonyx, teeth and skull orientations such as these are very capable and suited to the grasping of fish.

In this image illustrated by M. Shiraishi, the Cearadactylus skull is perfectly well suited to the rest of the body and the teeth, it seems, he has made a little less monstrous looking. Regardless, these teeth are still quite capable of grasping and containing fish. The positioning of the fish was most likely an exercise of agility and skill for these animals and more than likely would have happened after the animal settled itself onto a cliff or other likely spot to rest. The mechanics of flight for the animal seem quite typical of pterosaurs in general and the wings, provided that they are of the design that Shiraishi has illustrated, are fairly typical as well.

09 March 2012

Cearadactylus: A "Normal Looking" Pterosaur

After careful deliberation I decided that I would go with a more "normal looking" pterosaur this week during Flying Reptile Month. Cearadactylus is actually quite average looking by all appearances. We do not tend to expect large tails on the larger pterosaurs, so the lack of one on Cearadactylus flailing along behind the animal is less of a shock than it was on Anurognathus. Discovered in 1985, Cearadactylus is only non-average looking in the front of its rather long skull where it houses some fierce looking teeth. Those teeth gave it its name when it was taken from Brazilian stone Cearadactylus atrox meaning Ceara's (a state in Brazil) finger (a reference to the "wing finger" of pterosaurs) frightful, in literal word for word translation. That would make it "Ceara's frightful finger" if we made it into a phrase, which is pretty fantastical sounding. This ought to be a fairly good week for entries as this seems to be a fairly well rounded and known pterosaur!

08 March 2012

That Popular Little Flier

Whether Anurognathus is pictured bat-winged, bird-winged, or strangely thin-winged, it is a strange little animal that has barely poked its head through the popular culture. It has appeared in Walking With Dinosaurs, though as more of a passenger than a flying hunter on larger sauropods.
Additionally, they show up on the BBC series Primeval but in an even stranger capacity. On that show they were portrayed as piranha like flying armies that could devour any creature in minutes, rather than hunting insects and animals more to its size.

07 March 2012

Many Discoveries of Anurognathus

Anurognathus has been defined and redefined every forty or fifty years it seems. Considering the interesting nature of the flying reptile, I do not find this amazing. The more interesting the fossil the more attention it gets after all. New studies still come out all the time on some of our favorite crowd pleasers, so it is not really all that amazing except for the fact that Anurognathus is not typically a known fossil. Despite that, the original fossil, which was a part of a slab with the other half of the slab having been lost along with a great deal of bone which, thankfully at least, left a little bit of an impression of the bones that disappeared with it, had been described and named in 1923 and re-described in 1975 by Peter Wellnhofer. Wellnhofer simply re-described the holotype specimen and confirmed Doderlein's measurements. The measurement of the wing was confirmed to be fifty centimeters or twenty inches of wingspan. Having a nine centimeter long body this was a tiny adult specimen of a flying reptile and in 2008 Mark Paul Witten estimated that a thirty five centimeter wingspan specimen weighed in at approximately forty grams.

©Jaime A. Headden

The juvenile or sub-adult specimen described by S. Christopher Bennett in 2007 was a much better representation of the skeleton than the original specimen. This was due mainly to the fact that both halves of the fossil slab existed and thus provided a nearly complete skeleton. In describing this specimen Bennett noted that what Wellnhofer marked as antorbital fenestra were actually the orbitals and that this meant that Anurognathus actually had enormous eyes for its size. Other characteristics emerged as well in this new description such as the fact that the wings attached to the ankles making it short and broad, there were bristly hair-like protrusions on the jaw, and that the fourth phalanx on the wing finger of the hand is missing. The tail vertebrae, rather than only being able to study an impression of vertebrae, show in this specimen as unfused bone, meaning that the tail was not completely unmovable. This, with a shorter and more robust wing has led to the conclusion that where Doderlein thought Anurognathus was a swift hunting flier, Bennett believes Anurognathus was a twilight hunter (crepuscular animals) that relied more on maneuvering and using its large eyes to see through the dawn or dusk darkness.

06 March 2012

Anurognathus Junior

This needed some kind of picture, it looked too naked. This is a good one I think
The original paper naming and describing Anurognathus ammoni is written in German because the German Doderlein wrote it in his native tongue. No one can begrudge him this and I am quite sure translations exist. The difficulty with old papers, however, is that they do not always show up on the internet when we would like them to. We do, however, have the luck to have it appear in one place, though it is in the original German and only page one is free. I will keep searching for a translation, but I do not believe the world is on my side with this one.

However, there are two newer papers that first redefine the characteristics of the reptile as a flying animal and second describe a new specimen of the animal. The first paper, by S. Christopher Bennett, 2003, is a short paper communication without figures that glosses over existing described specimens, Chinese and Kazakhstanian family members (anurognathids), and then launches into a short description of the new specimen of Anurognathus. As I mentioned Saturday in Dmitry Bogdanov's illustration, the eye is a strikingly large organ in this flying reptile and, as Bennett points out in his discussion of the eye in this new specimen's better preserved skull, the eye sits at a 45 degree angle that would allow for some binocular vision. This is a little discussed topic, though it is gaining in discussion from larger studies pertaining to it, that is very important in that binocular vision allows for depth perception, a tool that we use daily in our lives.

The second, newer version of Bennett's short communication, does include some very well detailed figures. He has made this available on his own homepage so all of the copyright's belong to him, therefore, make sure if you wish to read it later and go to save it you read his guidelines before doing so. Just remember when looking at the figures and reading this newer publication that this specimen, like the holotype, was comprised of two slabs which have been pulled apart. In the original specimen one slab was lost completely, though, and is therefore not as complete a specimen as this one where both slabs are known to exist even though they belong to two different private collectors.

05 March 2012

A Short Monday

Typically I try to avoid only posting Tribute videos on Mondays but this week, the only real mention of the flying reptile we are looking at is in a popular documentary and a television show from the UK. Instead of wasting all the pop culture references away on Monday I am going to save those and just share this tribute video. This is a good video to show, however, as the illustrations and models of this animal differ so greatly that having them all placed together in a video a few minutes long really helps to see the different interpretations that are out there for people to see and deal with.

04 March 2012

Lack of Child-like Fun

Sadly we have only one thing to share today on Kid's day Sunday. It is an unintentional coloring sheet by Josep Zacarias, who I have shown art by before and used it as coloring sheets. It's a very good illustration, so enjoy your Sunday and hopefully we'll get more kid friendly entries for this reptile someday soon!

03 March 2012

The Flying Wing

Straight from DK books we have probably one of the most bat-like and ugliest dinosaur illustrations ever to be utilized in any medium ever. The snarling face alone makes for an ugly and unhappy creature flying off the page at us. Also, the hands of this reptile, as well as the feet in all honestly, look a bit messed up. One hand has three digits plus the elongated fourth digit while the other hand is held at a completely different angle from the main edge of the wing and the third digit has either folded under the wing completely or has disappeared. Likewise, the right most foot seems to have no toes! The left foot has toes though, so perhaps we can chalk that up to an unfortunate darting past the mouth of the Allosaurus further down the page and a quick nip on the foot. The tail here is basically non-existent as well. This is not the truth. Anurognathus actually did have a little bit of a tail sticking out, just not too much of a tail. He had enough to get from point A to point B but, unlike the long tailed cousins he had (rhamphorhynchoids), Anurognathus did not need the long tail to stabilize himself or maneuver. He had some agile wings to maneuver about as needed instead.

©Dmitry Bogdanov
Dmitry Bogdanov's Anurognathus is an ugly little thing that almost looks even more like a bat, if that was possible. It is fantastic artwork and it is most certainly going to crunch and munch that beautiful moth/butterfly (I'm not an insect guy, sorry folks), but he's still an ugly little thing. The fingers and toes are better here, including the elongated fifth metatarsal which you can just barely see hanging down from the closest foot. I do like that aspect as well as the fact that the eye is quite large and probably has quite good sight; not that you would necessarily need great eyesight to see an insect larger than your head as is the case for this Anurognathus. That is one enormous insect. However, at approximately 40 grams in weight, this insect probably constituted a rather large meal for our small flying friend here.

©David Orr
My favorite picture that is not 100% scientifically correct is this Allosaurus and Anurognathus combination by David Orr. It's not even that it's not accurate, it's that it was drawn for fun and not study. As he has pointed out many times on his own entries, there just are not that many great dinosaur crafts out there.This one, however, is wonderful and pretty darn funny if you ask me. I love that he has the little feet extended just enough that you can see them flailing along behind the animal in its excessively happy state of diving on the Allosaurus. Crazy happy pterosaurs.

02 March 2012

Almost Like a Bat

I'm back home, so yay for getting back to regular postings without mobile devices!

In 1923 Ludwig Doderlein described and named a small pterosaur that had a body shape very much akin to a flying wing. The lack of a substantial tail prompted Doderlein to name this animal for that very important attribute, or lack of an attribute at least. The animal's name is Anurognathus meaning "without tail jaw". That is Anurognathus ammoni actually. The specific name was attached to the specimen in honor of the collector from whom Doderlein acquired the holotype fossil a year earlier, one Ludwig von Ammon, a German geologist. This pterosaur came from the Solnhofen limestones of Eichstatt; Solnhofen being a very significant source of many fossils including Archaeopteryx. Thought to be a swift flyer originally it has since been re-envisioned as a swift adjuster; a quick maneuvering animal rather than a quick flying animal. Popular scientific entities (read television) have pegged it as an animal that was codependent with larger animals such as Diplodocus or have twisted it into a small but voracious carnivore. The truth shall be found this week however!

01 March 2012

Afrovenator the Popular?

Afrovenator is not so new an animal that it has not gained some popularity, despite how little it appears in films and the like. It does appear in videos from Spore creators ( and even Dinosaur King games ( Afrovenator does not have any good books about it out or giant magazine articles and it certainly has not appeared on television much if at all ever.