Sunday, 24 January 2010

Rhamphorhynchus Wings

In 1882 Carl Zittel described a fossil pterosaur wing with the membrane preserved. This remarkable find was the highlight of that year and the Zittel wing became a very famous fossil. Casts were distributed to all of the main national museums and by 1883 most researchers and interested students of fossils had seen the wing.
In 1880, a fine fossil of Rhamphorhynchus was found in the Solenhofen Shales. The work was published in 1882 and clearly showed the wing membranes and tail fin. This specimen was originally named Rhamphorhynchus phyllurus (now Rh. muensteri) and it was sold to the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, USA. As with the Zittel specimen, casts were taken and distributed to National Museums.
Since the original finds of pterosaurs with wing membranes preserved, There have been many examples from the Lithographic Shales in Bavaria. The specimen above is in the Humboldt University Museum in Berlin.
Perhaps the best specimen of a Rhamphorhynchus with wing membrane preserved is the 'Dark Wing' specimen which is sometimes called the 'Tischlinger' specimen. This is a reflection of the work of Helmut Tischlinger who produced an amazing set of ultra-violet photographic images of this fossil to enable more detail of the wing to be observed.

These and other fossils enabled the wing structure to be studied in detail, from the fibres that run across the cord of the wing to the different layers of tissue within the wing membrane. As a result, there is a high level of understanding about the wing membrane structure of these and other pterosaurs.

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

Padian K & Rayner J M V; 1993, Structural fibres of the pterosaur wing: anatomy and aerodynamics. Naturwissenschaften 80: 361-364.

Martill D M and Unwin D M; 1989, Exceptionally well preserved pterosaur wing membrane from the Cretaceous of Brazil, Nature, 340:138-140

Tischlinger, H. and Frey, E. 2002. Ein Rhamphorhynchus (Pterosauria, Reptilia) mit ungewöhnlicher Flughauterhaltung aus dem Solnhofener Plattenkalk. Archaeopteryx, 20, 1-20.

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