November 2, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Pterosaur Feathers: Another Myth Exploded



The debate about when dinosaurs developed feathers has been supported by
claims that feathers existed on the flying reptiles called pterosaurs.


by Jerry R. Bergman PhD

I have often said that a superficial knowledge of Darwinian evolution leads to its acceptance, but more in-depth knowledge often leads to its rejection. This is illustrated in the now-refuted belief that pterosaurs had feathers. A more in-depth knowledge and study of the evidence undermines that belief.[1] As one report concluded:

The debate about when dinosaurs developed feathers has taken a new turn with a paper refuting earlier claims that feathers were also found on dinosaurs’ relatives, the flying reptiles called pterosaurs.[2]

Dr. David Unwin, the leading scholar on pterosaurs, examined the evidence for pterosaurs having feathers and concluded that they were, in fact, featherless and bald.[3] Unwin, a professor at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Paleobiology Research, authored the leading text on these strange reptiles.[4] He is thus very qualified to evaluate pterosaur-related claims.

An Odd Animal

Figure 1. A comparison of a man, a pterosaur and a giraffe which shows how large some pterosaurs may have grown. From Witton, 2013, p. 250.

Pterosaurs (Greek pteron and sauros, meaning “wing lizard”) are a mosaic combination of bird, mammal, and dinosaur traits. They possessed some of the weirdest-looking beaks in the entire animal kingdom. They illustrate problems for taxonomy, the science of classifying life. Pterosaurs can flap their “wings” to enable it to fly like a bird. They also can soar like an eagle using their bat-like wings constructed by a flap of skin stretched between their body and a long fourth finger called the wing finger. Like birds, they had strong hollow bones.[5] They also had many body traits like reptiles, including teeth. The enormous sizes of some species gave them a dinosaur-like appearance, but they are unrelated to dinosaurs. Pterosaurs had wingspans up to 15 meters (over 45 feet) long and heads as large as small automobiles (See Figure 1.). For this reason, they are often referred to as “flying dinosaurs”, or “dragons of the air”.[6][7]

Pterosaurs are classified as reptiles largely due to evolutionary presumptions, but their relationships to birds and mammals is even less comprehensible than their presumed divergence from reptiles. Evolutionists claim pterosaurs were not only the first reptiles capable of flight, but also were the first vertebrates to fly (insects being the first animals to “evolve” powered flight). Yet evidence of their evolution is nonexistent in the fossil record. Even plausible just-so stories have eluded Darwinists. In short, their origins unabashedly baffle Darwinists. Since no plausible common ancestor exists, Darwinists postulate in desperation that most of their traits “were not inherited from a common ancestor, but result from convergent evolution!”[8]

Feathers to the Rescue

Artist rendition of “feathered” pterosaur by Yuan Zhang

The claim that pterosaurs had feathers was an attempt to show that even though Darwinists may have had no idea of how and what pterosaurs evolved from, they at least had evidence of what they evolved into – namely some bird-like creature. Having feathered pterosaurs could be easily translated into an evolutionary story that the

very earliest feathers first appeared on some ancestor of both pterosaurs and dinosaurs. This was significant because it is very unlikely that something so complex [as feathers] developed separately in two different groups of animals.”[9]

Furthermore, Yang’s et al. findings

imply that feathers had deep evolutionary origins in ancestral archosaurs, or that these structures arose independently in pterosaurs. The presence of feather-like structures suggests that anurognathids [a type of pterosaur], and potentially other pterosaurs, possessed a dense filamentous covering that probably functioned in thermoregulation, tactile sensing, signaling and aerodynamics.[10]

Now that the feather theory has been refuted by Unwin, evolutionists are left with even more unanswered questions.

Figure 2. An artist’s conception of a pterosaur based on fossil evidence.

The Latest Research

The Unwin and Martill research examined the evidence that these creatures had feathers in response to the claims made by a group of scientists led by Professor Zixiao Yang from Nanjing University. They had claimed that some pterosaur fossils showed evidence of feather-like branching filaments, called ‘protofeathers’, on the animal’s skin. Professor Yang and his colleagues presented their argument in a 2019 paper in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. In a Sept. 28, 2020 paper in the same journal Yang published in, Unwin and Martill proposed a non-feather explanation for the fossil evidence. Some evolutionary anomalies with the feather idea include the discrepancy that

the very first feather-like elements evolved at least 80 million years earlier than currently thought. It would also suggest that all dinosaurs started out with feathers, or protofeathers but some groups, such as sauropods, subsequently lost them again — the complete opposite of currently accepted theory.[11]

The Evidence for Proto-feathers

The evidence for proto-feathers is based on tiny hair-like filaments, less than one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter in their sample of 30 pterosaur fossils analyzed. From these 30 fossils, the believers in pterosaur feathers were able to find only three examples in which the filaments seemed to exhibit the “branching structure” required for the protofeather claim.

Unwin and Martill concluded these structures were more likely fibers that form part of the pterosaur’s wing membrane’s internal structure. Furthermore,  the “’branching” effect looks like the result of decaying fibers unravelling, which would be expected given the claimed age of the fossils. Dr. Unwin noted: “The idea of feathered pterosaurs goes back to the nineteenth century but the fossil evidence was then, and still is, very weak. Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence — we have the former, but not the latter.”[12]

Other problems include the argument from thermoregulation. If the pterosaurs

didn’t have feathers, then how did they keep warm at night, what limits did this have on their geographic range, did they stay away from colder northern climes as most reptiles do today. And how did they thermoregulate? The clues are so cryptic, that we are still a long way from working out just how these amazing animals worked.”[13]

This is quite an admission from the research team. After all, scientists are even still debating how they were able to fly.[14]

Figure 3. An artist’s conception of a pterosaur based on fossil evidence.


This is another historical chapter on evolutionary conundrums involving the sudden appearance, and equally sudden disappearance, of animals and plants. Of the 110 different species of pterosaurs—one of the most unique animals that ever roamed on the Earth—evidence for their abrupt origin and disappearance leaves evolutionists clueless. The pterosaur fossil record is excellent, or at least good enough to classify the 110 difference species of these varied flying creatures.[15] The fact is, “many questions concerning their biology and lifestyle [of pterosaurs] remain unresolved” and this new paper just raised a few more.[16] For all science knows, the first pterosaur was a pterosaur.

For more articles, search for “pterosaur” at this site.


[1] Yang, Zixiao, et al., Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3(1):24–30, January 2019.

[2] University of Portsmouth. Evidence that prehistoric flying reptiles probably had feathers refuted. Science Daily, 28 September 2020.

[3] Unwin, David and David Martill. Pterosaurs Had No Protofeathers (Paleontology). Nature Ecology & Evolution.

[4] Unwin, David M. The Pterosaurs From Deep Time. Westland, MI: PI Press, 2006.

[5] Martin, Ronald. 2013 [or 2016]. Earth’s Evolving Systems: The History of Planet Earth. Burlington, MA: Jones &Bartlett Learning, p. 406.

[6] Unwin, 2006, p. 2.

[7] Unwin, 2006, p. 2.

[8] Unwin, 2006, p. 7.

[9] University of Portsmouth, 2020.

[10] Yang, et al., 2019,p. 294.

[11] University of Portsmouth, 2020.

[12] Quoted in University of Portsmouth, 2020.

[13] Quoted in University of Portsmouth, 2020.

[14] Brown University. Study casts doubt on traditional view of pterosaur flight. News from Brown, 23 May 2018.

[15] Witton, Mark P. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.

[16] Yang, et al., 2019, p. 24.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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