April 19, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Pterosaur Beats Giraffe

A flying reptile with a neck longer than a giraffe’s? Could it fly at breakneck speed without breaking its neck?

Like dinosaurs, the flying reptiles collectively grouped as pterosaurs came in tiny, medium, large and gigantic sizes. There are no clear ancestors of pterosaurs, which appear fully formed and flight capable in the fossil record. On July 28, 2020, PNAS reported on “A tiny ornithodiran archosaur from the Triassic of Madagascar.” This miniature reptile, Kongonaphon kely from Madagascar, stood less than 4 inches tall and looks nothing like a pterosaur, but is thought to be an ancestor to both pterosaurs and dinosaurs.

Then there’s the three-foot wide pterosaur in the medium category, Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, nicknamed “Monkeydactyl” because of what looks like an opposable thumb in the fossil. Live Science shows a diagram of the bones in the fossil, along with an artist reconstruction of its putative ability to climb trees by grasping with its claw.

At the extreme other end of the size scale, consider Alanqa saharica from Morocco, featured in another article on Live Science. These astonishing pterosaurs as big as airplanes had “absurdly long necks and large heads” as the artist conception shows. Indeed, if the artwork is accurate, the beak of this monster was almost as long as its neck. How on earth could it function as a flyer? How could it hunt on the wing? The article speculates that it “grabbed and carried heavy prey through the air while hunting.”

The answer, scientists at the University of Portsmouth found by dissecting a neck bone, is that the vertebra were like bicycle wheels. (See The Conversation for bone structure and artist rendering of the pterosaur). The neck bones were mostly hollow with “spokes” of bone supporting the central core. This allowed the necks to be lightweight yet strong, and longer than the neck of a giraffe (see 15 April 2021, “Giraffe genome doesn’t support Darwinism”).

A comparison of a man, a pterosaur and a giraffe which shows how large some may have grown. From Witton, 2013, p. 250. The neck of the newly reported giant was longer than a giraffe’s.

Uniqueness of the Specimens

These specimens are unique and yet are classified together. Here’s a remark about the large one:

“One of our most important findings is the arrangement of cross-struts within the vertebral centrum [the inner wall of the vertebrae],” study co-researcher Dave Martill, a professor of paleobiology of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. “It is unlike anything seen previously in a vertebra of any animal.

Here’s a remark about the medium-size one.

“[Monkeydactyl] is an interesting discovery,” study author Fion Waisum Ma, a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said in a statement. “It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur — which wasn’t known for having an opposed thumb.

Indeed, the study authors wrote, Monkeydactyl is the only known pterosaur with thumbs, proving that the reptiles were even more diverse and specialized than anyone knew.

The proposed ancestor to pterosaurs, Kongonaphon, is also unique for archosaurs in the evolutionists’ timeline.

Reptiles of the Mesozoic Era are known for their remarkable size: dinosaurs include the largest known land animals, and their relatives, the pterosaurs, include the largest creatures to ever fly. The origins of these groups are poorly understood, however. Here, we present a species (Kongonaphon kely) from the Triassic of Madagascar close to the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, providing insight into the early evolution of those groups. Kongonaphon is a surprisingly small animal (estimated height, ∼10 cm).

And yet the creature looks nothing like a pterosaur. If the diagram is right, it walked on all fours with a long neck and tail like sauropods. How could it be a link to pterosaurs? How many lucky mutations did that take?

Evolutionary Storytelling To the Rescue

The facts above show unique creatures with no obvious connections except that the two pterosaurs could fly, and the alleged ancestor could not. How could they be linked by evolution? Never underestimate the storytelling prowess of Darwinians. Here’s how PNAS accounts for the small size of the alleged ancestor:

Analysis of ancestral body size indicates that there was a pronounced miniaturization event near the common ancestor of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Tiny ancestral body size may help explain the origins of flight in pterosaurs and fuzzy integument in both groups.

Assuredly it does not explain the origins. The two creatures look nothing like one another. The ancestor could not fly, but the descendants could. Being tiny does not make the origin of flight easier. Remember how many specific requirements there are for powered flight? Watch again Flight: The Genius of Birds from Illustra Media. “You don’t just partly fly,” Paul Nelson says in the film. It’s an all-or-nothing challenge, and every body part must be geared to that function.

Regarding that “fuzzy integument” mentioned in the quote above, the paper provides no evidence – only speculation with an “if” clause:

If the filamentous body covering now known to be present in pterosaurs and various dinosaur groups is homologous, as has been argued recently, it likely originated as insulation in small-bodied ancestral ornithodirans, as has been invoked to explain the origin of fur at the same time in the ancestors of mammals.

How convenient; these animal groups have nothing to do with each other, but they all got insulation on their own. Did they prove this? Did they find any fuzz on the ancestor? No and no.

And what, pray tell, is a “miniaturization event” in Darwinian theory? For an animal to live, all its systems must adjust simultaneously and coordinate their functions in 3-D space. Animals clearly grow in size from embryos, but does the reverse occur by some mutation without killing the animal? Why would natural selection preserve something tiny, when all its relatives were much larger? It doesn’t make sense, yet the authors gloss over this, repeating that “the earliest-diverging members of the group may have been smaller than previously thought, and that a profound miniaturization event occurred near the base of the avian stem lineage.”

“May have been”: the escape clause. The only evidence for this is circular; Kongonaphon appears in their evolutionary timeline closest to the alleged divergence, so its small size would have needed a “miniaturization event.” The paper merely states this “miniaturization event” as a matter of fact, but admits, “The cause of this apparent canalization in dinosaurian body size remains poorly understood.

How about an evolutionary story for Monkeydactyl and its unique opposable thumb that it wasn’t supposed to have? Live Science is satisfied to sum it up with a pun:

In conclusion, the team wrote, this Monkeydactyl’s unique hands reveal “unexpected and invaluable information on the evolutionary history of pterosaurs.” Thumbs up to that!

Finally, there must be some “invaluable information on the evolutionary history” of the giant pterosaur. Let’s search for it.

The team found that in pterosaurs in the family Azhdarchidae, these rod-like structures connected the interior walls of the largely hollow neck vertebrae. These slender rods had an average diameter of 0.04 inches (1.16 millimeters), and they were “helically arranged along the length of the vertebra,” Martill said. “Evolution shaped these creatures into awesome, breathtakingly efficient flyers.

That’s it. That’s all, folks. For the materialists, evolution is a master craftsman. How? Why? Stuff happens.

The fossils are facts. The artwork gives a more-or-less reasonable interpretation of how they looked. Nobody disputes that these incredible creatures lived, or that the giant pterosaur could fly with a neck larger than a giraffe’s with a large head poised on the end of it. The optimization of the hollow bone that allowed it to fly is clear. Pterosaur fossils are found around the world.

You are either going to believe that these unique animals “emerged” by an unguided, uncaring, aimless set of mistakes, or that they were created by an all-wise, intelligent Engineer. Choose you this day.


Bonus test for smart readers

Objective: look for evolutionary answers in a paper in Nature that speaks of “150 million years of sustained increase in pterosaur flight efficiency” (Nature, Oct 28, 2020). Watch for actual evidence, not just storytelling. Cross out circular arguments that assume evolution. Measure the perhapsimaybecouldness index as you read. Take note of admissions of ignorance and lack of evidence. What, if any, useful scientific information is conveyed in the following abstract?

The long-term accumulation of biodiversity has been punctuated by remarkable evolutionary transitions that allowed organisms to exploit new ecological opportunities. Mesozoic flying reptiles (the pterosaurs), which dominated the skies for more than 150 million years, were the product of one such transition. The ancestors of pterosaurs were small and probably bipedal early archosaurs, which were certainly well-adapted to terrestrial locomotion. Pterosaurs diverged from dinosaur ancestors in the Early Triassic epoch (around 245 million years ago); however, the first fossils of pterosaurs are dated to 25 million years later, in the Late Triassic epoch. Therefore, in the absence of proto-pterosaur fossils, it is difficult to study how flight first evolved in this group. Here we describe the evolutionary dynamics of the adaptation of pterosaurs to a new method of locomotion. The earliest known pterosaurs took flight and subsequently appear to have become capable and efficient flyers. However, it seems clear that transitioning between forms of locomotion—from terrestrial to volant—challenged early pterosaurs by imposing a high energetic burden, thus requiring flight to provide some offsetting fitness benefits. Using phylogenetic statistical methods and biophysical models combined with information from the fossil record, we detect an evolutionary signal of natural selection that acted to increase flight efficiency over millions of years. Our results show that there was still considerable room for improvement in terms of efficiency after the appearance of flight. However, in the Azhdarchoidea, a clade that exhibits gigantism, we test the hypothesis that there was a decreased reliance on flight and find evidence for reduced selection on flight efficiency in this clade. Our approach offers a blueprint to objectively study functional and energetic changes through geological time at a more nuanced level than has previously been possible.




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