Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Non-Dinosaurs! Oh no!

Back to dinosaurs soon, I promise.

I've been doing some research on
Nyctosaurus lately for my own web site and toward improving the Wikipedia article. The crest situation always confused me, because many traditional depictions of this pterosaur show it with a low, dorsal keel type crest on the snout, similar to some ctenochasmatoids. The well-preserved skulls of the famous gigantic-crested N. sp., however, don't show this feature, and neither to several other nyctosaur skulls. As it turns out, Chris Bennett, who has been working on a detailed osteology of Nyctosaurus, pointed out on the DML several years back that the "N. bonneri" style crest isn't real, an artifact of crushing mistaken for a crest and subsequently enhanced by preperators.

As for the Nyctosaurus sp. with the head like a sailing mast, older depictions showed it with the back-pointing boom much shorter than the up-pointing spar. However, the fossils of KJ1 and KJ2 (the crested specimens) appear to have broken booms, and Bennett 2003 states that the boom was at least 3/4 the length of the spar. Luckily this meme has taken off among paleoartists thanks to the efforts of Mark Witton, and John Conway updating his famously brilliant paintings of this species.

I've updated my own depiction here, as well as the version I had donated to Wikipedia. Oddly enough, I found the older version in a Flikr photo by mavra_chang accompanying a Nyctosaurus display at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History in Bryan, Texas. The version is CC licensed but that requires at least crediting my name somewhere. It's hard to tell if that happened there as the image is partially cropped, but they certainly didn't notify me or ask permission... Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked to have my stuff (however outdated) up in a frigging museum. Just, y'know, a heads up would have been nice.


  1. Nyctosaurus is an interesting critter; I've never been well versed in pterosaurs but I can see why you'd want to deviate from your usual subject to talk about tehm.

    And the fact that your work is found in at least one museum is way cool. But, indeed, some personal notification would have been even better.

  2. That picture looks amazingly similar to one I did for an Archosauria art show that I did with Scott a few years back, though much better. Personally, I was always confused by the structure of the "hand." Nyctosaurus apparently lost all of its free fingers, and the "knob" of the metacarpal-phalanx joint doesn't seem like the most stable weight-bearing structure.

  3. @Zach: Well, the MC and phalanx there are pretty hefty, not to mention the ossified tendons in the muscles of that area, so it couldn't have been too bad to walk on. Kinda like crutches. Anyway I doubt it would be on the ground very often, just to breed/nest and rest occasionally. The wings are phenomenally long and albatross-like.

  4. Hi, this is "Mavra Chang", the one who took the Flickr photo you mentioned in your blog. I ran across this because I was googling my own Flickr page for fun and this came up. Next time I go to the Brazos Valley Museum I'll try to get a better shot of the drawing for you. That sucks that they didn't credit's an extremely small (and I guess a bit outdated!) museum...I'm hoping it was done out of ignorance instead of malice.