In the previous article I discussed the outside section of the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition’s pterosaur display (hosted at Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank). The exhibition (which finished on July 4th, sorry) incorporated three flying, life-sized azhdarchids – suspended from the two adjacent building – as well as two walking ones (the latter roughly reproducing Mark’s terrestrial stalking scene).
But there was much more to the exhibit than this: it also had an indoor component. The main feature was a wall covered with life-sized pterosaur heads: it looked great, sort of like a wall of trophy heads…
Included were a pink Pterodaustro, Stan (apparently) the female Dimorphodon, Rhamphorhynchus, Tupuxuara deliradamus, short-crested and long-crested Pteranodons, an antlered nyctosaur, Istiodactylus (it looked like a nightmarish goose, and I don’t mean that as a negative comment) and a few of hell’s cassowaries (by which I mean tapejarids, and I’m stealing a term Mark Witton invented).
The Thalassodromeus model is impressive purely because of its incredible size [shown below], and the Coloborhynchus just looks awesome because of this animal’s incredible teeth [shown here]. What makes Coloborhynchus particularly weird is that – in addition to teeth lining its jaws – it also has a pair of teeth that project forward from the blunt anterior face of the rostrum. A peculiar depression is also present on that blunt anterior face, and is located ventral to the tooth pair. That’s really weird. A similar condition is present in the substantially younger Uktenadactylus from Texas (Rodrigues & Kellner 2008), but in that animal the depression is dorsal to the first tooth pair.
Having mentioned Thalassodromeus… if you’ve been following the debate on thalassodromid taxonomy (thalassodromid = the correct name for the ‘tupuxuarids’), I should take this opportunity to note that Dave Martill and I have both long given up on the idea that Thalassodromeus and Tupuxuara might be congeneric (Martill & Naish 2006). I should also take this opportunity to remind everyone that the hypothesis of skim-feeding in Thalassodromeus has been thoroughly tested and found wanting (Humphries et al. 2007), so people should really stop promoting it as a likely behaviour for these animals.
As mentioned previously, you’ll note that these models encapsulate some new ideas on pterosaur behaviour and biology. Gone are the old days when every single pterosaur is a fish-eater that lives at the seaside. The colours and demeanour of the istiodactylid hint at the idea that this was a terrestrial carnivore of some sort; possibly a carrion eater. The brownish hues of the dimorphodontid are in keeping with the hypothesis that these pterosaurs were able climbers that hunted in forested environments. Tapejarids were not cliff-dwelling auk-analogues, but most likely forest-dwelling pterosaurs that behaved something like hornbills, so the two tapejarids included on the wall (Tupandactylus imperator and ‘Tapejara‘ navigans) have a very ‘terrestrial’ look.
We also had a selection of real and replica pterosaur bones and a giant pterosaur phylogeny plotted against time. Erwin Meerman very kindly loaned two models – a Dimorphodon and Anhangeura – for the duration. They were excellent: beautiful, incredibly detailed and lifelike.
You can’t host a major, neat event in London and not attract a long list of notable persons. Partly because the third International Palaeontological Congress was happening at the same time, a lot of palaeontologists were in town and many dropped by to have a look. It was great to catch up with Taissa Rodrigues and talk pterosaurs; Lorna Steel, Susie Lanaway, Victoria Herridge, Angela Milner and many others dropped by as well.
On Thursday, David Attenborough visited the exhibition. I’m dead serious. It wasn’t just a social call – he was there for filming reasons, and spent time chatting with Mark on camera (I presume about azhdarchids: image above by Lauren Pearce). I missed all of this. I always miss The Attenborough. Ed Yong – that’s Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science – also visited and we hung out, talking about science blogging and so on.
Not only was the event a great success in terms of promoting pterosaurs, science and the University of Portsmouth, it was also a fantastic social event and we – by which I mean the whole UoP team – all had a great time. Getting the whole thing dismantled and packed away at the end of the exhibition was quite an adventure; we had to get those three flying azhdarchids down to the ground, had to pack away the whole of both the outdoor and indoor sections of the exhibit, and had to move all the azhdarchids a long way to a storage area. That’s a lot of work… and it meant no sleep.
Some other stuff: Ethiopian wolves and air penguins
While, naturally, I’ve only written about the Pterosaurs: Dragons of the Air display, the festival included loads of other fascinating exhibits that were well worth a look. I particularly liked the University of Oxford’s stall on emerging infections. Ethiopian wolves Canis simensis have been infected with rabies transmitted by domestic dogs, so efforts are underway to vaccinate the dogs and hence prevent disease transmission to the wolves. Success has been limited due to increasing human and domestic dog populations.
My personal highlight was the unbelievable air penguin created by the German engineering company Festo. If you don’t know what air penguins are (Festo also makes air rays and air jellies, as well as machines that swim underwater), now might be the time to find out. Here are some still photos… videos are available online (many are on youtube) and are well worth checking out.
So there we have it. What next for the UoP pterosaur exhibition? I believe there are plans – understandably, the main problem with this exhibit is moving it around (the transport costs are high). But if you’re interested in hosting it, contact me and I can pass your requests on to those in charge.
Finally, thanks indeed to Dave Martill, Mark Witton and Bob Loveridge for setting it all up, making it all happen and allowing me to be involved, and well done and thanks to everyone else who helped in the event, or made it as fun as it was: Alex Ayling, Nathan Barling, Liz Bowen, Christopher Callaghan, Graeme Elliott, Luke ‘ewok’ Hauser, Richard Hing (“You will respect ma authorata”), Georgia Maclean-Henry, Benjamin Moon, Kirsty ‘flute’ Morgan, Charlie ‘flute # 2’ Navarro, Michael O’Sullivan, Lauren ‘krazy badge lady’ Pearce, Emily Percival, Jack Taylor, Steven Vidovic, Robert ‘Schneider’ Winn-Rossiter, and also John Conway, Mike Hanson, Neil Phillips and Luis Rey [various of these people are shown in the pics below; first image by Alex Ayling]. Apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten.
For previous articles on the University of Portsmouth/Royal Society pterosaur exhibition, see…
- Mark Witton’s secret: finally out
- The London pterosaur invasion, sneak-peek
- Giant pterosaurs invade London, Summer 2010
- Dsungaripterid pterosaurs and the proliferation of Wittoniana
- The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, part I
- It could look a giraffe in the eyes
- The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, part II
- The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, part III
- Crato Formation fossils and the new tapejarids
- Terrestrial stalking azhdarchids, the paper
- Pterosaurs breathed in bird-like fashion and had inflatable air sacs in their wings
- A month in dinosaurs (and pterosaurs): 4, flaplings and head-sails anew
- A month in dinosaurs (and pterosaurs): 5, pterosaurs vs birds, or not… or is it?
- Darwinopterus, the remarkable transitional pterosaur
- The long-awaited launch of Pterosaur.net
- Zhenyuanopterus, Boreopterus and the Ask A Biologist relaunch
Refs – –
Humphries, S., Bonser, R. H. C., Witton, M. P. & Martill, D. M. 2007. Did pterosaurs feed by skimming? Physical modelling and anatomical evaluation of an unusual feeding method. PLoS Biology 5, No. 8, e204 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050204
Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. 2006. Cranial crest development in the azhdarchoid pterosaur Tupuxuara, with a review of the genus and tapejarid monophyly. Palaeontology 49, 925-941.
Rodrigues, T. & Kellner, A. W. A. 2008. Review of the pterodactyloid pterosaur Coloborhynchus. Zitteliana B 28, 219-228.