The long-awaited launch of Pterosaur.net

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Today see the launch of an outstanding new website devoted entirely to pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic. What makes the site different from many specialist sources on the internet is that it was created, written and designed by specialists in the field. As such, it should prove an invaluable resource. I'll try and keep this brief, as I know you're just desperate to go over there and start looking around...

Pterosaur.net had its genesis at the Munich pterosaur meeting in 2007 when Dave Hone, John Conway, Ross Elgin, Mike Habib, Luis Rey, Lorna Steel, Mark Witton and yours truly came up with the crazy scheme of creating a good, 'everything you wanted to know about pterosaurs but were afraid to ask' website. It took a bit longer than expected to go live (that's because we're lazy), but here we are (a few things are still incomplete).

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Pterosaur.net includes a large number of articles on pterosaur ecology, anatomy, functional morphology and phylogeny, and there are also contributions on such things as the history of pterosaur portrayal in popular culture, and on myths and misconceptions. There's also a genus guide (that is, a page with individual entries on each genus... though it's not quite complete yet. There are about 85 recognised pterosaur genera as of right now). Picture galleries of fossils and artwork are included: the site is a visual feast, with lots of neat artwork by Conway, Witton and Rey [image above: a giant dead azhdarchid is scavenged by maniraptorans and a smaller azhdarchid. By Mark Witton]. So, enjoy, and spread the word [image below shows one of the first ever pterosaur reconstructions; see Taquet & Padian (2004)].

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Incidentally, 2010 is gonna be HUGE for pterosaurs. I will say no more. Oh, and don't forget to obtain a copy of the Zitteliana pterosaur special issue if you can.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on pterosaurs see...

Ref - -

Taquet, P. & Padian, K. 2004. The earliest known restoration of a pterosaur and the philosophical origins of Cuvier's Ossemens Fossiles. C. R. Palevol 3, 157-175.

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So the image of the azhdarchid carcasse is who's?

IAC, I like John Conway's new pics. Look quite refreshing.

Pterosaur net must be huuuge! ;)

Fantastic idea! I really appreciate all the work that went into the pterosaur.net site. I'll be sure to pass the link along.

Now, I request a similar one for plesiosaurs...

The Origins and Relationships have in the example carnivoran relationships as ((cats, dogs)bears). Shouldn't that be (cats(dogs, bears))?

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Great news! As a layperson it's very hard to find solid scientific info which, as an artist, you really need . . . I've been meaning to sharpen up on my pteros.

By viergacht (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Is the correct spelling rhamphorhynchoids, rhamphorhynocids or rhamphorhyncoids? They all crop up on the site.

Humph. "...pterosaurs, the other flying reptiles of the Mesozoic."

By John Harshman (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

While you're checking for typos, is it cruropatagium, cruopatagium, or curuopatagium? :-)

Anyway, great site, and I particularly enjoyed the "Walking with Pterosaurs" article. (you should totally call it that)

Great site.One can see why man was not around at the time of the Pterosaurs. no chance of survival

By Bob Michaels (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

But I have to say that it's a pity there aren't any around today. Why is that, exactly? What are the current notions?

1. Shit happens.
2. Feathers turn out to be just better over the long run. Except on bats.
3. Not good at hiding under things, so vulnerable to infrared pulse.
4. ?

By John Harshman (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

@John Harshman: I find unlikely birds outcompeted pterosaurs, simply because they already occupied many ecological niches back then and were more adapted to flight anyway. Most likely they suffered heavy losses in the Turonian, much like dinosaurs

@John Harshman

I believe current thought is pterosaurs winnowed out for two reasons.

1. Due to their extreme precocial nature, and slow growth pattern, there were never any really small pterosaurs. Instead, immature pterosaurs were common and simply took up different niches in the environment. This meant pterosaurs would have generally been less speciose than birds in similar environments. Thus, it would have been easier for them to go extinct.

2. Although the last surviving pterosaurs (Azhdarchids) seem to have been generalists, they were also by far the largest pterosaurs*. As large endotherms, they'd have the same problems surviving in the post-extinction environment as dinosaurs likely did - huge food needs which couldn't be easily met with the short-term scarcity of prey.

By Karl Zimmerman (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Wild guesses as to what could be HUGE in 2010.

1. Flightless pterosaur described.
2. Pterosaur with adaptations for some sort of herbivory described (probably granivory or frugivory).
3. Late Cretaceous anurognathid.
4. Finally, a good transitional fossil is found.
5. Biggest azhdarchid ever described.

Some of these are really out there, but this pretty much covers the bases.

By Karl Zimmerman (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

"Although the last surviving pterosaurs (Azhdarchids)"

And nyctosaurids, mind you. And then there's the speculations, like anurognathids, which I hope turn out to be true

The richness of the pterosaur fossil record of any given time is so strongly correlated to the number of known pterosaur-bearing formations from that time that all we can really say is that there were no more pterosaurs in the early/middle Eocene (Messel, Green River...). That said, I bet that the K-Pg impact finished them.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Has David Peters been asked to contribute? He apparently once had a Pterosaur website with interesting material on it: if he still has electronic copies maybe it could be made available again? (I don't remember-- if I ever knew-- what was on his site when it was up, but I have seen references to it.)
--
Sharon:
for plesiosaurs, have you checked the links under "Mostly Mesozoic" on the left-hand side of the page here on Tetrapod Zoology? There are two sites with "plesiosaur" in their titles (I am not familiar with either, can't comment on their value) and "Oceans of Kansas" which has lots and lots and lots of materrial on plesiosaurs and other Mesozoic marine sauropsids.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

You're forgetting the Wyvernidae. However, the fact these animals stand on their legs exactly as birds do necessarily limits their possible ancestry, and by the late Cretaceous there were a notable lack of such pterosaurids.

Nice site, but it switches in mid-sentence from English to the incomprehensible paleonto-anatomo-technical jargon.

I was intrigued by some small pterosaurs compared to cookie-cutter sharks. Could some smaller pterosaurs be equivalent of vampire bats or bloodsucking darwin's finches? In fact it is possible - big herbivorous dinosaurs had little option to defend themselves in such situation. Heavy sauropod or armored ankylosaurid could neither scratch itself nor roll in dust. Would be interested to hear more!

Rich literature, and an unforgetable experience! I will return again, and again, for the knowledge will be revealed to me in a new fresh way each time. There is much to value here! Mind expanding!

By Cynthia Lefebv… (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

S. J. Gould/Dave Raup memorial question regarding pterosaur extinction: can any of these hypotheses be rigorously distinguished from "1. Shit happens"?

By John Harshman (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Lots of sauropods had sagittal spikes. Surely they were there to keep pterosaurs from landing and pecking out a meal.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

This was such a great website; I learned a lot about pterosaur biology that I had no idea about before. Just in the name of curiosity, though, do you know what happened to David Peter's website on pterosaur anatomy?

Great start and nice images -- look forward to seeing it grow.

Is there any explanation for why the mandibular fenestra was lost in pterosaurs? If they were going towards weight reduction then why lose this structure that cuts out some bone?

"Due to their extreme precocial nature, and slow growth pattern, there were never any really small pterosaurs. Instead, immature pterosaurs were common and simply took up different niches in the environment. This meant pterosaurs would have generally been less speciose than birds in similar environments. Thus, it would have been easier for them to go extinct."

An interesting hypothesis. Is there evidence for all the assumptions made here? I.e. can we be sure there were no small pterosaurs at end-Cretaceous? Also lots of animals have development influenced by nutrition...e.g., many human "pygmy" tribes were actually just people under chronic nutritional stress...and as we know oceanic fish are maturing and reproducing significantly earlier and at smaller sizes due to fishing targeting larger fish or simply because the odds are against a fish surviving for multiple years.

But anyway: like r-selected sauropods, it's yet more Mezazoic population-biology weirdness: this notion of "precocious", autonomous pterosaur young occupying distinct niches occupied from adults, to the degree that the young and adults are functionally different species [that exert competitive exclusion against species that either function as adults in one niche or the other]. I can't think of a modern tetrapod analog for this. Although I'm sure someone can come up with one; crocodilians maybe? Most crocs are big as adults, and baby crocs are both autonomous and eat different types of prey than adults. But we still have small (ish) crocs. Also crocodilians are not endotherms.

Perhaps I need to qualify my statement to, there is no modern tetrapod endotherm analog to juvenile and adult pterosaur forms occupying different niches.

AD:

"precocious", autonomous pterosaur young occupying distinct niches occupied from adults, to the degree that the young and adults are functionally different species [that exert competitive exclusion against species that either function as adults in one niche or the other]. I can't think of a modern tetrapod analog for this.

This is probably not exactly what you had in mind but... lissamphibian tadpoles are both ecologically and morphologically quite dramatically different from the adult stages (i.e., aquatic herbivores vs. amphibious/terrestrial carnivores).

crocodilians maybe? Most crocs are big as adults, and baby crocs are both autonomous and eat different types of prey than adults.

Komodo dragons might be a better example; the juveniles and subadults occupy a slightly different ecological niche than the adults by being partially arboreal (apparently mainly to avoid predation from the adults).

Perhaps I need to qualify my statement to, there is no modern tetrapod endotherm analog to juvenile and adult pterosaur forms occupying different niches.

Surely that's mainly due to the fact that most juvenile endotherms, by and large, don't need to fend for themselves; they are provided food, protection etc. by their parents (or, in the case of avian brood parasites, their foster parents) until adulthood or near-adulthood. Juvenile megapodes, which are independent from the moment of hatching, might be the most significant exception though I don't really know quite how ecologically different they are from their adults. Are there any megapode experts reading this?

Megapodes! Wow! Something new every day, on TetZoo.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Very very nice. (the images and the new site, particularly)

one quibble: none of you are lazy; you're all busy with important things (like real life).

By Anthony Docimo (not verified) on 11 Jan 2010 #permalink

Good to see so many positive comments about the site: I suppose that means we've done something right. To address a few points in the comments roll above:

Allen Hazen and Jason S.: Not sure what happened to Dave Peters' site, but we didn't ask him for a conribution to Pterosaur.net. Not because we don't like him or anything (quite the opposite, in fact), but because we wanted to convey what we consider to be the current consensus on pterosaur research and Dave has some rather radical, alternative ideas that, in our view, are not terribly well supported by fossil evidence. While we admit that pterosaurs are controversial and that not everyone will agree with what we state at Pterosaur.net, it seems a bit silly to form a website that would, if we worked with Dave, be constantly be pushing two very different interpretations of the same data.

Jerzy: The pterosaurs you're talking about are istiodactylids (there's an old picture of one here), and they're not actually that small - wingspans of up to 5 m are known. Note that while their teeth tesselate together to form a neat little rosette in their rounded muzzles, their jaws are quite long and aren't suited to removing chunks of flesh from large, living animals.

I've always found that the conflict between using English and palaeobabble is a constant issue when writing popular essays: if you don't use a bit of jargon, you end up having to define all your terms throughout the essay (thus adding more words and making the piece look more intimidating - long lengths of text are off putting for some readers, after all) or repeatedly using incredibly cumbersome terms such as "the lower hole in the skull behind the eye socket" (the infratemporal fenestra). When you're writing about something other than anatomy - say, functional moprphology or systematics - having to explain these terms over and over becomes very tiresome and interupts the flow of the article. The obvious solution to this is to expand our anatomy section to make it a little more comprehensive, or at very least write a jargon-busting Pterosaur.net blog post, I suppose.

AFAIK David Peter's ideas aren't as radical now as they were before; nowadays the only issue I have with him is the fact he claims most pterosaurs were bipedal when in fact they weren't

Carlos: Peters ideas of pterosaur terrestrial locomotion, phylogeny, ancestry, wing configuration, life appearance and methods of interpreting fossils are all at odds with those of most of the pterosaur community. While I don't disagree with everything Dave says, it's my opinion that many of his ideas are significantly outweighed by other bodies of evidence.

Carlos, that's not really true. Peters has as many radical ideas as ever (if not more), virtually all based on his photo-interpretation technique, virtually all of them invisible to everyone else. He still seem to think that pterosaur fossils are covered in unossified babies, _Longisquama_-like dorsal frills were widespread, massive sheets and tassels decorated snouts and tails, that there were extra digits, claws and teeth all over the tree, and much else too. He managed to get some of this stuff into his recent JVP paper on pteroid anatomy - can't believe this got past reviewers!!!

By Pterosaur.worker (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

pterosaurids

There is no Pterosaurus and therefore no Pterosauridae.

can any of these hypotheses be rigorously distinguished from "1. Shit happens"?

Occasionally, it happens that a piece of shit 10 km in diameter falls from the heavens⦠:^)

Lots of sauropods had sagittal spikes.

This is only known from one so far.

Surely they were there to keep pterosaurs from landing and pecking out a meal.

Then why aren't there any on the immense flanks?

Is there any explanation for why the mandibular fenestra was lost in pterosaurs?

The lower jaw became too narrow to have space for a fenestra. Same in birds.

and much else too.

Extra nostrils even.

Also, I had to explain to him the difference between phenetics and phylogenetics, and I had to explain to him the difference between rock and bone (he used his pareidolia on bones, too, occasionally â finding "unprepared bones" in them!!!)â¦

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

A couple of things about the site: firstly, why are you deliberately going for dark grey text on a light grey background? All this does is makes the text hard to read and convinces the reader that the site author is just plain thick (or previously composed heavy metal websites, who seem to like similar stylistic abominations).

Secondly, you're using php. Make certain you have as much security as possible turned on, and that you keep frequent backups; you're going to need 'em as that site is going to get broken into with monotonous regularity, or about as often as new vulnerabilities are discovered in php. Keeping your eyes peeled for sudden increases in spam email being sent out from your site might be a good idea too; I can supply a script for automating such watching, which also dobs in the chief culprit script which is being abused to send spam.

By Dan Holdsworth (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

@Pterosaur.worker: I thought the vast majority of the insanity had been rejected in favour of an alternative phylogeny and the bipedal locomotion thing, because the lastest version of this site didn't mentioned the sails and the vivipary and etc.

Oh well, seems I was wrong.

why are you deliberately going for

Tell that to the ScienceBlogs overlords. Darren has no power over such things whatsoever, except the font.

(Be warned, however, that the overlords don't listen to anything.)

â¦Besides⦠the text is black.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

Love the site; and in spite of Holdsworth's complaining, I think that the design is lovely.

And since I do graphic design to pay my bills, I hope that's worth something.

Thanks for info. I am resigned to accept that istiodactylids were scavengers. Still, the thought of a vampire pterosaur chasing sauropods is incredibly cool ;)

About hyperprecociality. Little pterosaur runs into big problems with laws of physics. It has completely different aerodynamics than the grown adult. Large pterosaurs were soaring forms, but their hatchlings were unable to soar at all. So I have serious doubts that pterosaurs were really precocial.

About site gallery - wonderful resource. Anybody noticed how long and curved were hind claws of that tapejarid? I guess it was tree climber and not marine form at all.

After taking a gander at the site, it is a nice resource, have to say. And wow the anurognathids are neato. Add that to the list of startling convergences, anurognathids+nightjars+bats(maybe).
@Jerzy
'Perhaps I need to qualify my statement to, there is no modern tetrapod endotherm analog to juvenile and adult pterosaur forms occupying different niches.'

"Surely that's mainly due to the fact that most juvenile endotherms, by and large, don't need to fend for themselves; they are provided food, protection etc. by their parents (or, in the case of avian brood parasites, their foster parents) until adulthood or near-adulthood. Juvenile megapodes, which are independent from the moment of hatching, might be the most significant exception though I don't really know quite how ecologically different they are from their adults."

Yeah, I admit that my general observation may not be as general as I originally thought- it's just that all endotherms today have a modicum of parental care after birth or hatching, with a few rare exceptions like the megapode- equivalent to saying superprecociality is rare among extant endotherms. Doesn't make it any less weird that in the Mezozoic the landscape was dominated by superprecocious endotherm young, and altricial or precocious young were an evolutionary innovation that was still rare (or in the minority) among tetrapods.

I hope that pique at Dan H.'s comments doesn't blind the site proprietors to his serious warning about PHP vulnerabilities.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

2009 was already huge for pterosaurs, in a sense, thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated creationists who have worked hard to spread the word that people are seeing live pterosaurs all over the world. I read a lot of Fortean and cryptozoological stuff on the web, and a few years ago, pterosaurs were hardly ever mentioned. Now they have a respectable presence!

By Johan Wikberg (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

About hyperprecociality. Little pterosaur runs into big problems with laws of physics. It has completely different aerodynamics than the grown adult. Large pterosaurs were soaring forms, but their hatchlings were unable to soar at all. So I have serious doubts that pterosaurs were really precocial.

Most pterosaurs were not soarers!

And isn't there evidence that Pteranodon (a marine soarer) grew much faster than Pterodactylus and Rhamphorhynchus?

I hope that pique at Dan H.'s comments doesn't blind the site proprietors to his serious warning about PHP vulnerabilities.

They don't read this page anyway.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

David; they are talking about the pterosaur site, not this one

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

@Nathan Myers

I don't really want to get into an off-topic debate about scripting languages, but I think this concern about PHP is a little odd. If it were such a security nightmare, I suspect Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and all the huge sites that that run on PHP would be abandoning it.

The site is running on PHP 5, which has fewer security concerns than vanilla installs of older PHP versions, doesn't use a database so isn't vulnerable to SQL injection, and has no public-facing inputs at all, I think this hand-wringing is silly.

why did pterosaurs go extinct? duh. they were ground nesters. most of them drowned in the flood.
They aren't completely extinct (and yes, something can be partially extinct or somewhat unique); a few survived and can be seen in hollywood productions, such as jonny quest cartoons

What an excellent idea, a Pterosaur dedicated website, now I know why to catch up on the latest news re Azhdarchidae, Pteranodontidae etc.