February 23, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Cretaceous Flyers Challenge Evolution

Cretaceous pterosaurs and birds cry out
from the rocks, “We were designed.”

 

Asserting that something evolved does not make it so. More fossils of amazing creatures capable of powered flight have come to paleontologists’ attention, one from late Jurassic strata and another from Cretaceous strata. Statements that they evolved do not comport with the observational evidence.

Early Giant Pterosaur

On the Island of Skye in Scotland, a fossil pterosaur (“winged lizard”) with exceptional preservation was found by grad student Amelia Penny in 2017. Pterosaur bones are delicate and often not preserved. This one had more bones preserved than usual. After careful excavation of the fossil, reports made the news this week.

The species of pterosaur, about the size of a modern albatross with a 2.5-meter wingspan, was given the name Dearc sgiathanach (“flying reptile”). Its large size is causing a rethink about the evolution of pterosaurs, if there was any, because the only other pterosaurs found in Middle Jurassic strata were much smaller than this one.

Fossil of largest Jurassic pterosaur found on Skye (BBC News). Dinosaur paleontologist Prof Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), led the trip to the Island of Skye where the specimen was found. He calls it “a superlative Scottish fossil”.

The preservation is amazing, far beyond any pterosaur ever found in Scotland and probably the best British skeleton found since the days of [fossil hunter] Mary Anning in the early 1800s,” he said.

And its size “tells us that pterosaurs got larger much earlier than we thought, long before the Cretaceous period when they were competing with birds, and that’s hugely significant”.

Pterosaur fossil from Scotland is largest Jurassic flier ever found (New Scientist, 22 Feb 2022). The BBC article didn’t mention evolution, but this one does: “Pterosaurs evolved 230 million years ago during the Triassic Period as small, flying reptiles,” writes reporter Christa Lesté-Lasserre, without any doubt about it. And yet they were wrong about evolution in other respects:

Scientists had generally assumed that pterosaurs remained small at this time, with wingspans of no more than 1.8 metres, before becoming larger at the very end of the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous, she says.

D. sgiathanach suggests a rethink is in order.

The animal was well designed. It had “sharp upper and lower teeth that criss-crossed each other outside the mouth, which would have been ideal for catching fish,” says Natalia Jagielska, another PhD student at Edinburgh who created artistic representations of the species. It had good eyesight, the scientists believe, strong wings, a short neck and a long tail but no head crest (unless it was not preserved). Adult members of the species may have had 3.8-meter wingspans—twice what was previously believed for that evolutionary period. Though not as long as the 12-meter wingspan of Quetzalcoatlus found in North America, which was fighter-jet size (12m wingspan), this was still a big flyer that had to leap and begin flapping immediately to get aloft. The coordinated traits required for powered flight do not just emerge by chance, much less work together. There are no known pre-pterosaurs in the fossil record. All were flyers.

Early Modern Birds

New fossil birds discovered near China’s Great Wall – one had a movable, sensitive “chin” (Field Museum of Chicago, 18 Feb 2022). After dispensing with the obligatory evolution assertions, we can look at the evidence.

  • “These new skull specimens help fill in that gap in our knowledge of the birds from this site and of bird evolution as a whole.”
  • “All birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs are birds; a small group of dinosaurs evolved into birds that coexisted with other dinosaurs for 90 million years.”
  • “These amazing fossils are like a lockpick allowing us to open the door to greater knowledge of the evolutionary history of the skull in close relatives of living birds.”
  • “At a time when giant dinosaurs still roamed the land, these birds were the products of evolution experimenting with different lifestyles in the water, in the air, and on land, and with different diets as we can see in some species having or lacking teeth.”

Now, the empirical evidence. 100 specimens of fossil birds, found 80 miles from the Great Wall of China, are said to have lived 120 million Darwin Years ago. From the artwork, they look like modern birds except they had teeth. An evolutionist from Utah Tech commented that they were “pretty darned close to modern birds.” They belong to the same group (ornituromorph) as modern birds.

One of two newly-identified species had a predentary, a moveable tip in front of the beak that may have helped it feed. If it was a moveable part, as the scientists suspect it was, it must have been enervated, and the birds’ brains must have known how to operate it. Do evolutionary paleontologists understand how these near-modern birds evolved?

“These discoveries strengthen the hypothesis that the Changma locality is unusual in that it is dominated by ornithuromorph birds, which is uncommon in the Cretaceous,” says O’Connor. “Learning about these relatives of modern birds can ultimately help us understand why today’s birds made it when the others didn’t.”

And so evolutionary theory proceeds as usual: assert evolution first as an unquestioned fact, then admit how much is not yet understood.

 

 

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