Monday, 24 August 2009

Belemnite Ink Reconstituted

Recently, Dr Phil Wilby and his team were working to extract well preserved remains from a site near Christian Malford in Wiltshire for the British Geological Survey. The outcome of this extensive dig was to recover specimens of belemnite ink which has been reconstituted and used to write with.

This work mirrors the work of Joseph Anning in 1828 when he drew an illustration of a fossil skull of Dimorphodon macronyx using reconstituted belemnite ink from the Jurassic specimens found near Lyme Regis in Dorset.

The new work is significant insofar as it will allow the ink from the Wiltshire specimens to be analysed in detail - something that has not been done before.

The specimens used were classified as Belemnotheutis antiquus and were younger than the Anning Specimens. The ink was reconstituted in the same manner by adding ammonia to liquefy the solid ink sac contents.

The article in The Times reports that - "The specimen is now in the British Geological Survey collection in Nottingham. Part of the ink sac has been sent to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, for more detailed chemical analysis. "

Mary Annings Pterodactyle

The Times - 19 August 2009 Article by Simon de Bruxelles

The Times - 22 August 2009 Dave Martill's Comment

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Pterodactyls Alive in 1985

In 1985 the BBC broadcasted an edition of the popular series "Wildlife on One" entitled Pterodactyls Alive. The centrepiece for this program was a dynamic model of Dimorphodon macronyx, nicknamed Didi.
The model was made by Arril Johnson and was commissioned by Aardman Animations in July 1984 as an animation model for the series. The model was made after consulting the leading experts of the day. Kevin Padian, curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley and Hugh Aldridge a bat flight researcher at Bristol University who both contributed ideas to the modelling process.
This interesting model now resides in a display at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery on Queens Road, Bristol, UK. It is worth a visit if you are in that part of the world.
These two photographs are mood shots taken by Arril Johnson before the model was handed over to Aardman for the filming of the program content. Both pictures are copyright of Arril Johnson and used with permission. The images are to be included in a rewrite of the Bristol City Museum page on the Pterosaur Database website in the near future.
It is work like this that stimulates discussion in pterosaur research. Kevin Padian proposed ideas about the morphology and locomotion of Dimorphodon which were a little slow to be accepted in some areas. Modelling like this helps to demonstrate the practicality of such suggestions and put these kinds of ideas into context.

Aldridge, H; 1986. Manoeuvrability and ecological segregation in the little brown (Myotis lucifugus) and Yuma (M. yumanensis) bats (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae). Canadian Journal of Zoology 64:18781882.

Johnson A; 1986, Didi a model with a difference, The Geological Curator Vol 4 ,No 5 page 289-290, September 1985.

Padian K; 1983, Osteology and Functional Morphology of Dimorphodon macronyx (Buckland) (Pterosauria: Rhamphorhynchoidea) based on new material in the Yale Peabody Museum, Postilla (Peabody Museum of Natural History), No.189, 1-44.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Park Hall Country Park

In 1985, Steven Winkworth made the first large scale flying model of Pteranodon, which he flew over the Dorset Coast. The model was used in the BBC television program - Pterodactylus flies. This event was published in New Scientist and in the national newspapers of the time, but outside of the world of pterosaur enthusiasts it is not a well known event.
This weekend I walked at Park Hall Country Park in Staffordshire. Having popped into the visitor centre for an ice cream I was confronted by a painting of the Steven Winkworth flying model on the wall in front of me.
The painting was done by Christopher Guest some 5 years ago, when he worked for the Community Art Team of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, run by Paul Bailey. The wall painting is quite a faithful representation of the model, as can be seen from the photographs. What an unusual find!
This small exhibit room boasts quite a few pterosaurs, like these Quetzalcoatlus soaring in the skies, perhaps over Stoke - who knows.

Park Hall is a site of special scientific interest for its glacial deposits and bedded gravels, as well as having a wide range of different biological habitats in close proximity. Not a place where you would expect to find Pterosaurs.

Winkworth S., 1985, Pteranodon Flies Again, New Scientist, 3 Jan 1985: p32-33.

Winkworth S., 1985, Pteranodon, Flug und Modelltechnik, 359, p990-993. Verlag fur Technik und Handwerk, Baden-Baden.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Resolving Criorhynchus

In 1861, a new species of pterodactyl was published by Richard Owen. The specimen was the end of a snout with a couple of teeth and 5 tooth sockets. He called this specimen Pterodactylus simus. A few years later he assigned the specimen to a new genus Criorhynchus simus. Harry Govier Seeley also published the specimen as Criorhynchus simus and added other specimens of anterior jaw fragments to this genus.

Several upper jaw snouts were discovered from the Upper Greensand. This is a derived deposit which contains lots of fragmentary remains. The nature of this pterosaur was not well known and analysis of the remains were very speculative at the time.

With no associated remains Criorhynchus was just a series of similar snouts. For many years the consensus was that this was a short snouted large pterosaur with a solid jaw and a very powerful bite.

It was not until 1987 when Peter Wellnhofer described a specimen from Brazil which he called Tropeognathus mesembrinus. This was one of those inspirational discoveries which put the Criorhynchus specimens into context. These species were interpreted as skim feeders with an aqua dynamic snout tip crest.
With increasing fossil evidence, this specimen was later re-assigned to the genus Anhanguera by Kellner and Campos in 1989.

Many pterosaur finds tend to follow this pattern of discovery and rediscovery. This is how science works. There are draws full of unassigned pterosaur specimens in museums around the world waiting for that magic moment when someone makes a discovery or a link that helps to put them into their correct context. Finding such resolutions is a joy.

Owen, R. 1861 Monograph on the fossil Reptilia of the Cretaceous Formations. Supplement III. Pterosauria (Pterodactylus). The Palaeontographical Society, London. (volume for 1858; pp. 1–19 & pls 1–4)

Owen, R. 1874 A Monograph on the Fossil Reptilia of the Mesozoic Formations. 1. Pterosauria. The Palaeontographical Society, London. pp. 1–14 & pls 1–2.

Wellnhofer P; 1987, New Crested Pterosaurs from the Lower Cretaceous of Brasil, Mitteilungen der Bayerischen Statssammlung fur Paleontologie und historische Geologie, 27: 175-186 Munchen

Kellner, A. W. A. & Campos, D. de A. 1990, Preliminary description of an unusual pterosaur skull of the Lower Cretaceous from the Araripe Basin. Atas I. Simp. sobre a Bacia do Araripe e Bacias Interiores do Nordeste, pp. 401–405.