In celebration of the upcoming Flugsaurier conference (conference # 3), I thought I’d post some nice pterosaur pictures. I’m speaking at the meeting, so am spending ‘spare’ time on pterosaurs and not much else (I am happy to report that I’m able to continue with the day-job on marine reptiles – more on that in the future). The large picture is yet another I’ve nicked from Mark Witton: it depicts the Lower Cretaceous Chinese dsungaripterid pterosaur Dsungaripterus weii Young, 1964, and for the full-size version of the picture (this version is cropped and resized) you need to go here. Mark was mentioned in Science magazine last week, I think in the ‘editor’s choice’ column. Huh. A paper in PLoS Biology, a mention in Science…. I am pleased to report that there aren’t yet any signs of ego-inflation, but I’ll keep you posted.
Dsungaripterids have really interesting skulls, with toothless jaw tips (they are up-curved in Dsungaripterus but not in the other taxa), and unusual blunt teeth that look suited for crushing shelled prey. You can see these features, and others, in the reconstructed D. weii skeleton shown in the pic below. It was photographed in the Beijing Museum of Natural History and comes courtesy of Dave Hone; thanks Dave. A recently described dsungaripterid from the Lower Cretaceous Upper Tugulu Group of China, Lonchognathosaurus acutirostris, differs from Dsungaripterus in having a very long and straight rostrum that doesn’t appear to have been so robust (Maisch et al. 2004) [some other dsungaripterids are similar, but not as long-snouted as Lonchognathosaurus]. In Dsungaripterus, extra bone seems to have in-filled the ventral part of the orbit, giving it a strongly reinforced cheek region. It is only a matter of time before someone does stress-modelling work of some sort on these pterosaurs: when that happens, we’ll have some useful info on bite strength and all that stuff (actually, pterosaur worker Michael Fastnacht might already have done such work, but if so I haven’t seen it – it might be in his unpublished phd thesis).
The hindlimb and pelvic morphology of dsungaripterids indicates that they were well suited for terrestrial locomotion – perhaps more so than most other pterosaurs – with relatively robust limb bones well able to resist compression and buckling (Fastnacht 2005). This is in agreement with the fact that their fossils come from terrestrial environments; in fact we have increasingly good evidence that dsungaripterids and members of a related pterodactyloid pterosaur clade were not seabird analogues (as has so often been said of all pterosaurs [e.g., Naish & Martill 2003]), but radiated widely inland. More in this in future: Mark and I have a big project in the pipeline on this subject, and other papers on it are due to be published soon.
Anyway, this was meant to be a picture-of-the-day submission, not a proper article. Mark says a lot more about these pterosaurs in his article here. Back to work… as if the conference situation weren’t silly enough, I’m talking at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society about baleen whales tomorrow.
Refs – –
Fastnacht, M. 2005. The first dsungaripterid pterosaur from the Kimmeridgian of Germany and the biomechanics of pterosaur long bones. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50, 273-288.
Maisch, M. W., Matzke, A. T. & Sun, G. 2004. A new dsungaripteroid pterosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of the southern Junggar Basin, north-west China. Cretaceous Research 25, 625-634.
Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. 2003. Pterosaurs – a successful invasion of prehistoric skies. Biologist 50 (5), 213-216.