Ancient Reptiles Exceed Textbook Explanations
Each new fossil from China’s Liaoning province seems to force a rewrite of the textbooks. National Geographic News reported on fossils of pterosaurs with “much higher diversity… than one could possibly expect.” Two species found in the Jehol area (02/21/2003) had long beaks with sharp teeth, and wingspans up to 8 feet. “It was once thought that pterosaurs glided instead of flapping their wings,” Stefan Lovgren reported. “However, researchers have now established that all but the largest pterosaurs could sustain powered flight.” See also LiveScience. The paper in Nature1 says that, surprisingly, bird fossils show more diversity than the pterosaurs. 40 pterosaur remains (16 species) and 1,000 birds (21 species) have been found in the deposits. The closest relatives of the two new pterosaur species are from Europe, the discoverers said, also with apparent surprise. “This unexpected mixture of different pterosaur groups in these Chinese deposits,” they wrote, “indicates a very complex evolutionary history of pterosaurs in general, which is just beginning to be deciphered.”
Under the sea, another group of extinct reptiles are changing the textbooks. Scientists from University of Newcastle in Australia found plesiosaurs that apparently munched on clams, snails and crabs instead of fish, as previously assumed. Discoverers found stomach stones (gastroliths) for grinding up prey. The report in Science1 states, “These finds point to a wider niche than has previously been supposed for these seemingly specialized predators and may also influence long-running controversy over the question of gastrolith function in plesiosaurs.”
1Wang et al., “Pterosaur diversity and faunal turnover in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems in China,” Nature 437, 875-879 (6 October 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03982.
2McHenry et al., “Bottom-Feeding Plesiosaurs,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5745, 75, 7 October 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1117241].
One interesting thing about the new pterosaurs is that their habits and physical characteristics overlapped those of birds in many striking ways; some of them almost looked like pelicans. The scientists had to presume that the pterosaurs occupied the shore niche and the birds occupied the land niche. These flying reptiles are being seen more and more as skilled pilots (09/09/2005), not just dumb gliders manipulating the webbing between their fingers. To imagine one kind of creature mastering flight by an evolutionary process is tough enough for a Darwinist, but four independent groups (pterosaurs, insects, birds, bats)? Throwing around phrases like “convergent evolution” is not going to solve the problems.
In the sea, the parallels between fish and reptiles (especially ichthyosaurs – see 04/20/2005) in swimming ability is remarkable. Some ichthyosaurs were shaped almost identically to fast-swimming tuna. When flying or swimming reptiles appear in the fossil record, they already had these abilities, fully fleshed out and operational. The same is true for insects, birds and mammals. Would it not make sense to think that a designer able to invent a flying machine or a swimming machine would grant that technology to very different groups of animals, each for its own niche and role in the world? Maybe he just wanted to confound those who would presume to speculate they evolved on their own.