Tetrapod Zoology

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I said in the freaky giraffoid Barosaurus article that I had one last thing to say on the ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘ meme. It’s pretty incredible. Yes, world, I give you: an actual skeleton of a real ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘. Well, a published drawing of one, anyway…

Just like the animals depicted in those various sources from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, this skeleton shows all the characteristic features of its ‘artistic meme’: it has a long neck (made up of many small vertebrae, and hence presumably quite flexible*), a relatively short skull, a lump-like, posteriorly projecting crest at the back of its head and small, pointed teeth. Wow. I bet you had no idea that such a skeleton had ever been found.

* A marked contrast to the real azhdarchid neck, with its lower number of long, cylindrical vertebrae and reduced flexibility (cough Witton & Naish (2008) cough).

It hadn’t, of course. The artist (Chris Forsey) must have been asked to “do a Quetzalcoatlus skeleton”, and must have invented what you see here. I presume that Forsey looked at the ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘ renditions produced by Gilbert, Orr and those other artists, the hypothetical skeleton you see here being the result. I don’t know this, of course: as you’ll no doubt have noticed, this ‘historical meme’ stuff involves an awful lot of guesswork, some or all of which might be erroneous. But the similarity between this alleged Quetzalcoatlus and the horrendous reddish demons we looked at before is striking, and unlikely to be coincidental in my opinion. Forsey’s version was first published in 1986 – the book is called The Day of the Dinosaurs (Stidworthy 1986) – and republished in 1999 [below: the sketch and its accompanying caption].

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Even the most complete of the real Quetzalcoatlus specimens is nowhere near as complete as the skeleton shown in Forsey’s sketch. I wondered if the look and pose of Forsey’s ‘demonic Quetzalcoatlus‘ skeleton was based on a real specimen of another kind of pterodactyloid; perhaps on one of the substantially smaller, Solnhofen pterosaurs (maybe on a Cycnorhamphus specimen?). Having looked, I’ve drawn a blank: the way the wings are folded and the position of the hindlimbs vaguely reminds me of some of the Solnhofen Pterodactylus antiquus specimens, but I can’t find any pterosaur fossil that’s an exact match in terms of posture and proportions. Let me know if you know otherwise.

One last thing on Quetzalcoatlus. Pssst… (say in hushed tone) it might not be a valid taxon.

For previous articles on the ‘historical meme’ in palaeo-art thing, see…

Refs – -

Stidworthy, J. 1986. The Day of the Dinosaurs. Macdonald & Co (London).

Witton, M. P. & Naish, D. 2008. A reappraisal of azhdarchid pterosaur functional morphology and paleoecology. PLoS ONE 3 (5): e2271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002271

Comments

  1. #1 pete_buchholz
    June 17, 2010

    It’s based on a specimen of Pterodactylus (not sure what specimen number). The specimen is illustrated on page 10 of Wellnhofer’s encyclopedia, and is definitely the same animal based on very similarly posed limbs, and the broken base of the left hand wing finger. All that’s been altered in a major sense is a modified skull and a greatly lengthened neck.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    June 17, 2010

    Oh yeah… that was hard to find! And the funny thing is – that skeleton is, like, the very first skeleton in the book! The broken wing finger makes this 100% certain. Well done, 10 Tet Zoo dollars for you :)

  3. #3 pete_buchholz
    June 17, 2010

    Ya, I didn’t even notice the wing finger on the drawing at first, but I just grabbed the book planning on spending some time comparing poses etc, but there it was, skeleton number one, with the broken finger clinching it.

  4. #4 Liz Clark
    June 17, 2010

    Oooooooh Tet Zoo dollars!!!! Can we trade those in for merch?!?!?

  5. #5 Darren Naish
    June 18, 2010

    Yeah, but the exchange rate is pretty poor. Tet Zoo merch available here of course.

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