December 5th

Box #5 in our count down is Anurognathus…

Anurognathus: the “Rhamphorynchoid Without a Tail”

Anurognathus was a small pterosaur from the Solnhofen in Late Jurassic Germany, an area that was dotted by islands in a shallow sea. It lived alongside critters like Archaeopteryx, Compsognathus, Pterodactylus, and Rhamphorynchus, but it seems to have been a lot more secretive.

Large eyes could take advantage of moonlight and starlight, while sensitive whiskers helped it sense prey on even the darkest nights. Short, broad wings are not good for speed, but they’re perfect for hairpin turns around tree limbs, squeezing between branches on the fly, or swooping on an insect perched on a leaf.

Anurognathus would like to point out that it does actually have a tail. A little one. A bit like a bat.

These critters are also quite small for a pterosaur, with a wingspan just over 19 inches (50 cm) from wingtip to wingtip. Many of the fossils have beautiful preservation so we can see them in all their adorable fuzzy glory, but their anatomy is so unusual that it is actually very difficult to say to which other pterosaurs they are related. The name is not a reference to what creature they thought it was related to, but simply a description of how short the tail was compared to other “basal” or “early” pterosaurs like Rhamphorhynchus or Dimorphodon. Most short-tailed pterosaurs are considered more evolved or “derived” creatures (it’s more complicated than that, but then we’ll be getting into the weeds), but Anurognathus falls in a messy middle betweeen the two groups as far as fossil features go. It doesn’t help that the first Anurognathus fossil ever discovered is known as the “road kill” specimen.

They are an example of how diverse pterosaurs can be, and also an example of convergent evolution for their area of specialty. Soaring through night skies just like bats and nightjars do today.

8 thoughts on “December 5th

  1. I must say, Anurognathus is one of the more unique pterosaurs and I’m glad it’s accompanied by others such as Jeholopterus, Batrachognathus, Vesperopterylus, and Sinomacrops, and isn’t just a single outlier in the pterosaur group.
    My advent calendar selection is Tethyshadros, a hadrosauroid discovered in Italy. It is one of the few dinosaurs known from the country and currently the oldest known hadrosaur from Europe. It was originally thought to be a dwarf member of its group until a more recently discovered specimen was found, showing that the holotype was a subadult and that Tethyshadros could grow much larger than once thought.

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  2. I’ve been following these posts closely, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up in the days ahead. However, I’m not sure if the problem exists only on my computer, but the images on all of your paleo-advent posts are small, grainy, and pixelated. Can you make the pictures larger and sharper, please?

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    1. Thank you for letting me know of the problem Mr. Adbale. It might have something to do with the size of the image I instructed the website to display, so I’ll see if just inserting the full size image can fix the problem.

      Has the problem been for all the Advent Calendar images or just a few?

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        1. Thank you. I think for the numbered images the issue is that the textured brushes I used don’t look as good when scaled down, so I will re upload those in their original size.

          If the featured “sticker critter” is grainy then I’m afraid that is also an artifact of the brushes I used. I thought they looked better small on my end, because the “crayon” brush I used looks terrible at full size. I’ll have to find a better brush in future now that I know it doesn’t look good aside from on my iPad, which is where I drew them.

          One of the drawbacks of digital art is that it may look good on one device, and look terrible on another.

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