Friday, October 16, 2009

Meet Darwinopterus

The belle of this week's ball is the new Jurassic pterosaur Darwinopterus modularis.
Becoming More Like Alfie
Image by Mark Witton, via flickr.

The reason for the excitement about D. modularis? It's the first pterosaur we've found that neatly straddles the two big lineages of pterosaurs. The first, more basal group are small and typically have long tails. The second are the pterodactyloids, which included the giant pterosaurs and those with the gaudiest head decor. They also lack tails.

D. modularis posesses a mixture of the two groups' traits: the head and neck are very much like the pterodactyloids while the rest of the body, with its large fifth toe and long tail, is quite basal-looking. This is a huge find for pterosaur researchers, as it fits neatly into a gap they've been looking to fill for two hundred years. Mark Witton has a fine write up on the fossil and its implications here. I like how his Darwinopterus is getting ready to devour Anchiornis, whose paleontological spotlight it's just stolen. Cute.

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