Sketchbook Sneak Peak

I have all sorts of pterosaurs flying and scampering around in my sketchbook lately.

Dimorphodon was a smallish flying reptile from the early Jurassic period. The first fossils were discovered by the famous paleontologist Mary Anning off the coast of England, and then named by Richard Owen himself in 1859. Despite its history, it’s not particularly well known aside from its appearance in the Jurassic Park franchise.

Now as much as people like to pick apart the inaccuracy of “those animals” from the Jurassic Park franchise, I will not be doing that here.

  1. It’s easier to compare with pictures and simply see the difference.
  2. The Jurassic Park team is actually quite aware that their prehistoric animals are inaccurate, and most of their new creatures simply keep to the aesthetic of the franchise (though they’ve certainly made an effort to include a little more accuracy in the games, like Jurassic World Alive). There are rumors that Jurassic World: Dominion will have more accurate dinosaurs, which would be awesome even if it’s only a flashback to the Mesozoic.
  3. All prehistoric creatures from the Jurassic Park franchise are the products of Dr. Wu’s genetic manipulations, many of which have either been spliced together with frog or fish DNA, or else simply altered to have whichever traits Dr. Wu wanted to highlight at the time. Considering he created monsters like the Indominus rex and Indoraptor…
Jurassic Park monster blend of frog, fish, lizard, and a dash of Dimorphodon.
Eek! It’s a gargoyle fitting for a monster movie. Image is not mine and is copyright to Jurassic World Alive software and Ludia inc.

On the subject of monsters, I had a blast drawing some vintage antediluvian sea monsters and flying reptiles! I just love any excuse to draw old-fashioned dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters. I referenced some of the original etchings to draw these, so you may recognize them even if I added a few tweaks of my own.

Pterodactylus was the first prehistoric creature ever officially described. Some thought it was a bat-like mammal, which explains the fur here. I drew the wings based on the Pterodactylus sculptures at the Crystal Palace in London. I loved their swan-like grace, and I figured most scientists at the time thought the wings would be more like this instead of the odd circular shape in the original sketch. So even though this pterosaur closely references the first original sketch of Pterodactylus, I took the liberty of swapping out the wings with a model I imagine was far more common at the time.

A placid Pterodactylus is spectator to a clash of marine monsters. Convenient that they chose land for their arena!
A serene and majestic (giant) Pterodactylus is spectator to a clash of marine monsters. How convenient that they chose land for their battle so that we could watch!

Now that we’ve had fun with movie monsters and first guesses, let’s take a look at a more modern understanding of pterosaurs. Dimorphodon in particular.

Dimorphodon was rather unusual for a pterosaur. Its body is proportionally heavier than most other pterosaurs its size, and with its shorter wings may have preferred staying on the ground or clambering in the trees. Rather like turkeys do today. So how would you get Dimorphodon off the ground?

Something scary would certainly do it, but Pete prefers to show us this behavior by throwing a treat or a ball.

That moment of anticipation before the ball is thrown.
Ready? Set…
Dimorphodon launches into the air to catch a ball.
And lift-off! No cliffs, trees, or running starts required! Just leap-frog into the air with strong wings.

Thank you so much for stopping by! See you next week for another Sketchbook Sneak-Peak! 😀

Sketchbook Sneak Peak

Do Pterosaurs make good pets?

Well that depends on what you need in a pet. If you like lizards or birds, and you have the proper enclosures, some of the smaller pterosaurs can make great pets! Take the Rhamphorynchus Pete is holding down below…a fully enclosed run and a small plastic swimming pool is all you need for this little guy to be content.

If your friend needs a companion or two, there are other creatures from the Solnhofen formation that are good options. Rhamphorynchus does not really need company, but it won’t mind if you decide to also bring a Compsognathus to your home. Compsognathus is large enough that Rhamphorynchus won’t bully them.

Pterodactylus and Archaeopteryx are too small to be in the same enclosure as Rhamphorynchus. Rhamphorynchus tend to be more pushy, and may end up bullying critters smaller than them. Both Pterodactylus and Archaeopteryx are social creatures, and are happiest with at least one other of their kind. If kept together in an enclosure, Archaeopteryx and Pterodactylus tend to ignore each other until meal time comes around. Always keep meal times separate to avoid fierce competition.

Compsognathus does not have this problem, and gets along well with anyone. It may be a little more enthusiastic and curious than the other creatures would like, but if it really ruffles their feathers or fluff that much then they can just fly to a higher perch.

A subadult Rhamphorynchus enjoys a back scratch.
Solnhofen neighbors from left to right...Pterodactylus, Archeopteryx, Rhamphorynchus, and Compsognathus.
Pterodactylus will fly to your hand for treats! Pete wears a glove to avoid accidental scratches.

Thank you so much for stopping by! See you on June 26th for the next sneak peak into the sketchbook! 😀

Critter of the Week: Pterodactylus

Meet Terry. She’s a chipper little flyer who would love to scramble up onto your shoulder and nibble your ear (just a little nibble, it tickles).  And could she please, pretty please have a tiny bit of that sandwich?

Terry update

Heavy boots sank into the spongy soil as Pete walked up the riverbank. With a low grunt, he stepped up onto a large, twisted root of a cypress tree, and clambered out onto a gnarled root slope that jutted out over the slow moving water. He sat down slowly, careful not to squish his paper bag as he held onto the thick trunk for balance, and sat with his legs dangling over the dark green water below.

Continue reading

Critter of the Week: Pterodactylus

Meet Terry. She’s a chipper little flyer who would love to scramble up onto your shoulder and nibble your ear (just a little nibble, it tickles).  And could she please, pretty please have a tiny bit of that sandwich?

Terry update

Terry always likes a snack, especially small morsels like snails, grubs, and worms she digs up.  That sandwich looks quite tempting though, and she won’t turn her nose up at an opportunity to snatch it out of your hand, so keep an eye and a firm hold on it. 😀 Continue reading

Critter of the Week: Pterodactylus

Meet Terry. She’s a chipper little flyer who would love to scramble up onto your shoulder and nibble your ear (just a little nibble, it tickles).  And could she please, pretty please have a tiny bit of that sandwich?

terry-update

Terry always likes a snack, especially small morsels like snails, grubs, and worms she digs up.  That sandwich looks quite tempting though, and she won’t turn her nose up at an opportunity to snatch it out of your hand, so keep an eye and a firm hold on it. 😀

She might not look it, but this little pterosaur (not dinosaur), is very good at walking and running around on the ground.  She spends a lot of her time poking her sensitive snout in the dirt for all sorts of burrowing creepy crawlies.  When she feels one, she nabs it with her tiny teeth and gulps it down.  Yum! Continue reading

The Art & Science of Terry

Hi there!  Terry is here with us today, a rather odd looking critter isn’t she?  If I asked you to tell me what she is, what would your answer be?  Flying dinosaur?  Terradactyl?  Pterosaur?

 

as_terry-copy

 

If you said Pterosaur then clearly you’ve done your homework.  If not, don’t feel bad (I’m not pointing fingers), because the sad fact is that most books, movies, toys, and pretty much anything to do with dinosaurs always lump Terry and her many relatives into the same pile.

Terry is a Pterosaur (Don’t mind the P there, it’s confusingly silent), a group of flying reptiles closely related to dinosaurs.  To be specific, her wild cousins are Pterodactylus kochi.  Pterodactylus is the pterosaur, where we get the name for the whole group.  So now you know she’s special. 😀

 

1. Is that…fur?

Terry, like all pterosaurs, is covered in a fuzzy layer of pycnofibers.  They’re made of the same keratinous proteins as our hair and fingernails.  But they appear to be hollow inside, which makes them much more like feathers than fur.

I say “appear to be”, because not everyone agrees.  Most of the fossils are a bit squashed, and even the 3d fossils can be hard to tell if what fills the space inside was part of the living animal or just more of the fossil (or a part of decomposition after the critter died, but before it fossilized).

Last week we saw the basic structure of a feather.  If pycnofibers are indeed hollow, then that could mean that they are similar in structure to feathers.

Terry and her many relatives are related to dinosaurs in the same way that crocs are related to dinosaurs (They are all Archosaurs).  A bit like a great aunt.

Since many dinosaurs are known to have feathers of various kinds, it would be pretty significant if pterosaur pycnofibers are determined to be feathers as well.

How significant?  More fluffy dinosaurs!  It’s possible that the earliest dinosaurs had a coat of fur-like feathers. 🙂

 

2. Hard Beak or Fuzzy Snout?

fuzzy beak copy.jpg
Terry & Ron are both pterosaurs, but look very different from each other.  Fuzzy snout vs. hard beak.  The difference in texture of fluffy pycnofibers is my own speculation.  We don’t really know what these might’ve looked like in life.

Now I’m not quite sure where I first heard of the idea of hard-beaked pterosaurs…I think I remember Petrie from The Land Before Time had a beak.  Come to think of it, I guess there are plenty of interpretations with beaky pterosaurs, but I’m not sure how many are based on fossil evidence.

So why does Terry have a soft, fuzzy snout?

The fossils don’t have a beak.  In fact, in several beautifully preserved ones we see only soft tissues, complete with a soft crest and that lappet on the back of head.  There’s a lovely diagram showing how clear the fossil is over at Mark Witton’s wonderful blog.  I’d highly recommend you check it out, because he’s an excellent artist, and an expert on all things pterosaur. 🙂

Terry’s friend on the left is a Rhamphorynchus (that’s a mouthful, sorry, let’s call him…Ron).  Some illustrate Ron and his wild relatives with just the toothless tip of his snout with a beak, but I’ve based mine off of Mark Witton’s lovely illustration.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine those crazy teeth with any kind of soft tissue, and that seems to be the argument for a hard beak over the bone.

 

3. The original pole vaulting masters

terry-take-off-copy

Pterosaurs had powerful wings, but their legs weren’t really strong enough to jump up to fly like birds.  So does that mean they’re helpless on the ground?

Not at all, look at Terry scamper around!

Pterosaurs were Earth’s first pole vaulting masters.  Their powerful wing-arms were strong enough to push their bodies (even the biggest ones) up into the air.  Mark Witton proposes that even the largest, giraffe-sized pterosaurs could lift off from the ground.  Many could probably take off from the water!

Helpless?  I think, not. 🙂  Here’s a quick video so you can see it in action. 🙂

How is it possible?

Unlike birds, pterosaurs have most of their muscle dedicated to their wings.  Birds need enough muscle in their legs to jump up before flapping, while pterosaurs pole vault into the air with the same power they use for flying.

So no need to jump off a cliff or wait for warm updrafts of air. 🙂

 

Quick Question: Ah, the nostalgia of so many movies and documentaries…I must say I still rather like the leathery, cliff-clinging bats in Fantasia (so many great retro-saurs in that one).  Are there any pterosaurs from books or movies that have colored how you see these animals? 🙂  I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!  

P.S.- You can always hop over the the A&S page to pick out who you want to see next! 🙂