Pteranodon and beyond: the history of giant pterosaurs from 1870 onwards
Published:January 01, 2010
Mark P. Witton, 2010. "Pteranodon and beyond: the history of giant pterosaurs from 1870 onwards", Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective, R. T. J. Moody, E. Buffetaut, D. Naish, D. M. Martill
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The immense size of many pterosaurs is now well known to academics and laymen alike, but truly enormous forms with wingspans more than twice those of the largest modern birds were not discovered until 83 years after the first pterosaur fossils were found. These remains were discovered in an expedition to the Cretaceous chalk deposits of Kansas led by O.C. Marsh in 1870: initially revealing animals with 6.6 m wingspans, Marsh eventually found material from animals estimated to span 7.6 m. Marsh's record breaking pterosaur – the largest flying animal known for nearly 80 years – was equalled by a supposed wing bone described by C.A. Arambourg in 1954, and then surpassed with the discovery of the 10 m span azhdarchid Quetzalcoatlus northropi by D. Lawson in 1972. Subsequent fragmentary azhdarchid discoveries suggest even larger forms: reinterpreting Arambourg's ‘wing bone’ as a cervical vertebra suggests an animal with an 11–13 m wingspan, while the Romanian taxon Hatzegopteryx thambema is a particularly large and robust form with a 12 m wingspan. Giant pterosaur footprints are also known, with the largest footprints recording walking azhdarchids of comparable size to those suggested by body fossils.
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Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective
The discovery of dinosaurs and other large extinct ‘saurians’—a term under which the Victorians commonly lumped ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and their kin—makes exciting reading and has caught the attention of palaeontologists, historians of science and the general public alike. The papers in this collection go beyond the familiar tales about famous ‘fossil hunters’ and focus on relatively little-known episodes in the discovery and interpretation (from both a scientific and an artistic point of view) of dinosaurs and other inhabitants of the Mesozoic world. They cover a long time span, from the beginnings of ‘modern’ scientific palaeontology in the 1700s to the present, and deal with many parts of the world, from the Yorkshire coast to Central India, from Bavaria to the Sahara. The characters in these stories include professional palaeontologists and geologists (some of them well-known, others quite obscure), explorers, amateur fossil collectors, and artists, linked together by their interest in Mesozoic creatures.