November 4, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

The Flying Giraffe and Other Fossil Stories of Extinct Reptiles

Imagine a giraffe leaping into the air and flying off. That’s what this giant pterosaur was like. Other interpretations about extinct reptiles are not so certain.

Flying Giraffe

A pterosaur as tall as a bull giraffe has been found in Mongolia. Fox News calls it a “plane size reptile.” National Geographic‘s headline reads, “Ancient Winged Terror Was One of the Largest Animals to Fly.” Not even a California condor could stand up to this flyer. Standing 18 feet high, with a 32-foot wingspan, this specimen rivals the largest pterosaurs ever discovered. Giant pterosaurs must have traveled far, because they have been found on opposite sides of the globe. This specimen was found in Mongolia; Quetzalcoatlus was found in Texas; another giant in Romania.

“Pterosaurs appear very suddenly in the fossil record, and their ancestry is very poorly understood.”

Neither article discusses ancestors of these monsters, because none are known. Like many creatures in the fossil record, they appear abruptly without missing links. A page from the University of Bristol about the pterosaur fossil record says, “Pterosaurs appear very suddenly in the fossil record, and their ancestry is very poorly understood.”

Flying reptiles have no connection, either, to the assumed dinosaur ancestors of birds. Powered flight requires the whole organism be adapted for that function: light weight, adaptations to the skeleton, the muscles, the wings, the digestive system, and everything else. Accounting for the origin of powered flight once by chance would be a near miracle, but evolutionists have to explain it four times: in insects, reptiles, birds and bats. Each of these groups flies (or flew) superbly well.

Bandit Pre-Bird

For this reason, it seems underwhelming to focus on shading patterns of melanin on a supposed “feathered dinosaur” that evolutionists believe was on the line to birds. When Current Biology reported possible melanin shades in the fuzz on Sinosauropteryx (Chinese lizard with wings), found in the Jehol region of China, it would have been nice to see some mention of flying, flight, or wings. Instead, the open-access paper danced around the interpretation of the fuzz surrounding parts of the creature’s body, saying, “Each specimen shows extensive preservation of dark, presumably organically preserved fibers identified as feathers/feather homologs in distinct areas of the animal.” The authors dispute the interpretation that the fuzz is flayed skin collagen, but only refers to another paper about that.

Reporters are not so bashful about the fuzz, calling the creature a “feathered dinosaur” openly without mentioning anything about interpretation. The artwork, however, clearly shows this animal was not ready for takeoff. Its diminutive forearms and long, thick tail made it a jumper at best, not a powered flyer. And whatever one wants to call “feathers” looks more like hair or fuzz. Live Science‘s coverage was less brazen than the press office at University of Bristol, which went out of its way to mention similarities this running reptile had with birds. At Creation.com, though, Jonathan Sarfati finds a lot more evidence in Sinosauropteryx to support a watery burial in a flood than a hopeful monster trying to become a bird.

Those Puny Arms on T. Rex

Speaking of diminutive forearms, National Geographic presented the idea that the tiny arms on T. Rex were effective slashing and grasping tools, not vestigial organs. Steven Stanley made this argument at a meeting of the Geological Society of America. Not everyone was convinced, however. A different idea proposed recently is that the arms diminished as a tradeoff to allow room for powerful neck muscles supporting the head. Another theory is that the arms were proportionally longer and functional in youth, but less so in adulthood.

Soft Tissue Skepticism

Another skeptic of dinosaur soft tissue, this one Evan Thomas Saitta (also from the University of Bristol), argues in The Conversation that supposed blood vessels and red blood cells found in some dinosaur bones are really due to contamination or biofilms. He takes a couple of swipes at creationists along the way:

One peculiarity of these widely publicised reports is the inevitable pseudo-scientific discourse that tends to follow. Creationists love such claims of unstable, original molecules in dinosaur fossils – and use them to back up their belief in a “young Earth”. The scientists in question retort that such hijacking of their work fails to comprehend the mechanisms of preservation….

As wrong as creationists are about the age of the Earth and of the mineral components of dinosaur bones, they may actually be correct in their suspicion about some of the organic materials we find within them. The less sensational truth may be that in some cases, the organic material inside ancient fossil bones may simply be formed from recent microbial infections.

Saitta also offends Catholics in his ‘conversation’ by referring to the natural transformation of biofilm into organic-like structures as a form of ‘transubstantiation.’ But he has a lot of reports in peer-reviewed journals to contradict these days. Reports of soft tissue from many different kinds of animals over the whole geologic column continue to pour in. We expect Mary Schweitzer, a figurehead of dinosaur soft tissue finds, will have some rebuttal to Saitta’s arguments.

Myth of the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid

Like ‘feathered dinosaur’ claims that are treated as fact, the ‘dinosaur-killing asteroid’ story has taken on the air of accepted myth. It shows up even in unrelated subjects. Astrobiology Magazine links it to climate change without explaining how many delicate animals survived the impact. It must be remembered that not all dinosaurs were large. Some were the size of chickens, but chickens and other small reptiles survived. Not a single dinosaur, pterosaur or marine reptile made it through the extinction, according to evolution. How could a single impact on one side of the world have such a selective effect?

The University of Warwick used the asteroid myth on an unrelated story about a promising cancer treatment using iridium. “Cancer cells can be targeted and destroyed with the metal from the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs,” the article on Science Daily begins. No support necessary; everyone knows to bow down. Cancer patients may not care where the iridium comes from if it helps them live.

Dinosaurs are fun to learn about when you first learn to separate fact from interpretation. Perhaps the most significant fact to keep in mind is this: no complex system made up of a hierarchy of systems working together for function happens without intelligent design. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs were highly successful, extremely complex creatures, with circulatory systems, nervous systems, digestive systems, reproductive systems, sensory systems, and brains allowing them to hunt, migrate, adapt to extremes of climate, and participate in a complex web of life. Pterosaurs were also masters of powered flight, independently of four unrelated groups (insects, birds, and bats) that also possessed everything needed to fly. “You don’t just partly fly,” Paul Nelson quipped in Flight: The Genius of Birds. Which gives us an opportunity to introduce (with appreciation) J. Beverly Greene’s latest cartoon specially drawn for Creation-Evolution Headlines, illustrating a famous remark by Sir Fred Hoyle about the theory of evolution.

Artwork by J. Beverly Greene for CEH. All rights reserved.

 

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