Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Discovering Pterosaur flight - Part 1

In the early days of research, Samuel Thomas von Soemmering made the first sensible reconstruction of a pterosaur skeleton in 1812. The reconstruction was missing several skeletal elements, but was a sound model based on the available evidence. He also proposed a wing membrane form which, although too generous in area was a good attempt at theoretical reconstruction.
It was not until 1882 that the wing structure was known from the fossil record. A specimen originally named Rhamphorhynchus phyllurus was discovered in the Lithographic Shale of Bavaria. At about the same time an isolated wing known as the Zittel wing (above) was published. Both fossils showed the outline and structure of the wing membrane of Rhamphorhynchus. This enabled much better reconstructions to be made.

In 1910 C. F. Eaton produced a paper on the osteology of Pteranodon with a skeleton reconstruction This was an inspired paper showing the skeletal form of a large pterosaur. Pteranodon was only known from crushed and distorted remains and this paper showed the skeletal form in a realistic way.

Ernst Stromer was inspired by the Rhamphorhynchus wing membranes and he produces a flying glider in 1913 which demonstrated that Rhamphorhynchus could fly with the known wing form.

By1914 the Hankin and Watson paper on the flight of Pteranodon gave us an insight into the structure of large pterosaurs that was related to the way they could fly. The framework was set for some real flying models.

Watch this space.......

von Soemmerring, S. T. 1812 Über einen Ornithocephalus oder über das unbekannten Thier der Vorwelt, dessen Fossiles Gerippe Collini im 5. Bande der Actorum Academiae Theodoro-Palatinae nebst einer Abbildung in natürlicher Grösse im Jahre 1784 beschrieb, und welches Gerippe sich gegenwärtig in der Naturalien-Sammlung der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München befindet. Denkschr. k. bayer. Akad. Wiss. math.-phys. Kl. 3, 89–158, plates.

von Zittel, K. A., 1882, Über Flugsaurier aus dem lithographischen Schiefer Bayerns. Paläontographica 29, 47–80 & pls 10–13.

Eaton, G. F., 1910, Osteology of Pteranodon. Mem. Conn. Acad. Art. Sci. 2.pp.1-38.

Marsh, O. C., 1882, The wings of Pterodactyles. Am. J. Sci. (3)23, 251–256 & pl. 3

Stromer E., 1913, Rekonstruktionen des Flugsauriers Rhamphorhynchus gemmingi, H. v. M., Neues Jahrb. Min. Geol. Pal., II, pp. 49-68.

Hankin E. H., & Watson D. M. S., 1914, On the flight of pterodactyls. Aeronautical Journal 18, 324–335.

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