Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pterosaur Gallery

Welcome to...

Among the most iconic of prehistoric creatures would have to be the Pterosaurs. At the same time they are surrounded in a number of misconceptions and controversy.

This despite their early discovery in the history of palaeontology in 1784. The first formal research and publications on these animals started this trend. Early scientists believing them to be some sort of strange aquatic creature whose long arms and fingers were used as paddles or fins. By the 1810's it was realized that they were in fact the first true flying vertebrates.

However even today they are surrounded by controversy. Were they warm blooded or cold blooded (evidence is starting to show warm, but it is still not certain). Where did their thin skin wing membranes connect on their bodies? Did they have parental care or were the young simply abandoned (studies of baby pterosaur wings show they were well developed upon hatching)? How did they walk, fly, take off, and or land? Did they all catch their food from the sea or did some of them live in a terrestrial habitat? Most important of all from what from and when did they evolve?

No matter a persons' level of scientific knowledge most can identify a picture of a flying reptile as a "pterodactyl". Even if this is but a single genus in this very long lived and diverse group. Due to their temporally coexisting with the Dinosaurs a popular misconception has formed that they were Dinosaurs themselves. While the two do share distant relations far back, they are indeed very different families indeed.

The Pterosaurs exact origins have not been surrendered by deep time yet, but they appear fully formed in the late Triassic 220 million years ago. They would survive to the end of the Mesozoic 65 million years ago, making them one of the most successful vertebrate families ever to evolve with a known span of 155 million years on Earth. Ranging in size from wingspans no bigger then 30cm to the largest wingspan of any living creature to ever live, 11 metres.

Without further ado the Pterosaurs...
Arambourgiania Family Unit by Peter Bond

A family of Arambourgiania philadelphiae - a large azhdarchid pterosaur, formally called "Titanopteryx," found in Jordan from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian). The adults had a 12 m (40 ft) wingspan inferred from a 61cm (2ft) long neck bone found in Jordan in 1943 and named by Camille Arambourg in Paris. The bone, originally thought to be part of the wing, was lost and subsequently rediscovered in Jordan in 1995 by David Martill and Dino Frey.

Pterosaur baby fossils are exceptionally rare, with the first and only three pterosaur eggs having been found in 2004! From the embryos within the eggs, palaeontologists have determined that baby pterosaurs hatched with strong, well-developed wings. The big question then is: Did the Mommy and Daddy pterosaur take care off their babies? My painting presents that they did!

Nyctosaurus gracilis: Just one big antler by Zach Miller
Notable for its ridiculously tall, forked "antler," Nyctosaurus gracilis is a rather small ornithocheiroid from Kansas. Like Pteranodon, it is toothless and seems well adapted for soaring above the waves of the Western Interior Seaway.
Early fossils of Nytcosaurus did not preserve such an incredible crest, only a small version of Pteranodon's crest (this could be due to sexual dimorphism and/or ontogeny). Chris Bennett later described two skulls in a private collection that preserved the spectacular structure.
I actually prefer the "final draft" of this piece to the color acrylic-on-canvas version. Imagine this picture with oyster-catcher (Haematopus) colors (red-and-yellow stripes on the crest) and you've got the acrylic version.
Like Dimorphodon, this picture too would see public display. What's nice about the painting is that it's just about life-size.

Pteranodon Longiceps Skeleton by Sean Craven

Pteranodon Longiceps by Sean Craven

The Display Grounds by Tuomas Koivurinne

Dogfight by Tuomas Koivurinne

Calculated Strike by Tuomas Koivurinne

The Ghost of Times Past by Tuomas Koivurinne

The Misty Cove by Tuomas Koivurinne

The Hatchlings by Tuomas Koivurinne

The Sunset by Tuomas Koivurinne

Sinking into Abyss by Tuomas Koivurinne

Major Billy Barker & his Pterosaur Squadron by Glendon Mellow, 2009.

Oil on canvas.

The paint is still wet, thus, the photo at a weird angle to prevent glare. My piece inadvertently has ties to the Pterosaur Gallery's launch coinciding with Canada Day.

Sometimes as an artist, I get an image full-blown in my mind; that was the case here. Composition, lighting, hues.

I needed some details for the biplanes. So I did a bit of online poking, and found the story of a true Canadian adventurer, perfect to add to my concept painting. Major William George "Billy" Barker was a World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross recipient who flew Sopwith Camels against German Fokkers.

Although I could not find any information indicating he fought against the infamous Red Baron, Manfred Von Richtofen, I thought these two ace pilots would heighten the drama in this alternate history. Of course, Major Billy Barker has a trick up those RAF sleeves: his fighting pterosaur squadron, made up of Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

Dimorphodon macronyx: Jurassic Puffin by Zach Miller
I've always thought Dimorphodon looked like a puffin, so I decided to give it puffin colors. Dimorphodon did not live like a puffin, though. Puffins are seabirds who nest on rocky rookeries, spend most of their lives on or underwater, and eat fish.
Dimorphodon was a insectivorous flapper who may have been scansorial (hat-tip to Mark Witton and his wonderful blog). Dimorphodon is important because its foot was the first complete, 3D foot found for a pterosaur. It showed that, in rhamphorhynchoids anyway, the foot was quite flat, and a digigrade posture was impossible. Thus, that familiar image of a bipedal, digigrade Dimorphodon from Kevin Padian was ironically proven wrong by...Dimorphodon itself.
This picture is acrylic on canvas, and I submitted it for an art show I did with Scott Elyard last year. Good times, and this was my best work in the show.

Dimorphodon by Rachael Revelle
Fish'n by Craig Dylke
Just off the shore of late Triassic Italy, a number of primitive Eudimorphodon all fight with each other to snatch one of the squid like Belemnites that have schooled in the shallows.

This picture was three separate renderings of a 3D computer graphic model. Each Pterosaur was render by itself inside the same 3D environment (lighting and camera position) to save time in posing and rendering. A separate head needed to be rendered and photo shopped on top of the fishing individual.

Expect a post on how the wings of these animals were made to bend in 3D. It sadly isn't as easy as one would hope!

A small challenge for you palaeo experts out there. The background photo has several (3 of them) objects that make this an ironic plate to put a CG Pterosaur in. Can you figure out what they are.
Pteranodon Longiceps by Marek Eby

Rhamphorhynchus Taphonomy by Mo Hassan

Pterosaur Patagia: Mix 'n' Match! by Zach Miller
The recent discussion about pterosaur patagia inspired this simple, but I think effective, visual representation of many possibilities for patagial (?) configurations.
The "skeleton" is of a pterodactyloid, something like Pteranodon or Anhanguera, in dorsal view. On the left, we have the "narrow-winged" models, while on the right, the "broad-winged" models.
Note that many more configurations are possible--you can basically mix and match all possibilities, so this is by no way exhaustive.
Which model do you prefer?
I like the "kite" model myself, with a broad cheiropatagium, ankle attachment, and medially-oriented pteroid bone.
Another thing to remember is that modern birds (and bats) are by no means "strict" in their aerofoil size and/or configuration.
A narrow wing may work better for soaring pterosaurs (like ornithocheiroids) while a broader wing might be preferable for small flapping forms (like Anurognathus). I think it's foolish to generalize patagium configuration across the entire group. Different configurations have their own unique pros and cons depending on the animal's lifestyle.

The LOST World by Traumador the Tyrannosaur

Though not technically just about Pterosaurs, Traumador the Tyrannosaur has asked us to post this teaser for an upcoming adventure of his that includes Pterosaurs... Though he has informed us it will have a number of other exciting prehistoric creatures as well, in what he terms a "scientifically updating" the classic tale of The LOST World.

So watch The Tyrannosaur Chronicles sometime in early to mid 2010 for this exciting (and other) adventure(s)!

Canadian Quetzalcoatlus by Peter Bond
Created for Canada Day 2009, this painting reconstructs one of Canada's only pterosaurs: the mighty Quetzalcoatlus northropi. With a wingspan of 12 m (40 ft), this monster of the late Cretaceous was found in 1995 in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. Happy Canada Day!

Jazz Hands Dimorphodon by Rachael Revelle
Oh Yeah? - just try doing this with an ankle brachiopatagial attachment.

 Pterorhynchus wellnhoferi by David Tana

  Pterorhynchus wellnhoferi, a rhamphorhynchid from the Late Jurassic of Inner Mongolia.  The "vertical" stripes on the crest are known from the type specimen, and interpreted as a preserved color pattern. Pen on paper, scanned, colored in Adobe Photoshop

Eopteranodon by Vasika Udurawane

We hope you enjoyed this journey back in time to the reign of the Pterosaurs.

Anyone wishing to contribute late submissions to this gallery are welcome to do so. With friendly disclaimer that they may not be posted immediately upon reception, but they will make it up!

So be sure to get started on and submit your pieces for Septembers Time Capsule, the early and enigmatic arthropods the Anomalocarids. Watch for a review of existing Palaeo-Art of this family to help you get some inspiration.

Also be sure to watch for the "making of"s for many of the Pterosaur pictures contained within this gallery.