Pterosaur Anatomy: Where have the necks gone?
I am back from a fruitful work trip to Southampton, UK. I gave a presentation there on pterosaur functional morphology and anatomy. One of the bits I got into was the problem of pterosaur necks. Namely: most of the neck is missing in many reconstructions.
I used Quetzalcoatlus
as my example in the talk, but the problem extends to a wide variety of species. Below is a wonderful illustration by +Scott Hartman
showing a launching Pteranodon skeletal with body outline. His neck outline is quite reasonable, and probably even a bit on the conservative side.
But what you often see looks more like this:http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rCm5cVu2UOY/UG_l-pNFUXI/AAAAAAAANCw/4jFmrW2Gl24/s1600/Pteranodon.sm.JPGhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Pteranodon_cranial_anatomy.jpg
Now James Gurney (who rendered the first of those two linked images) is a fantastic
artist. This is by no means a dig at those artists. They used the standard anatomical information available. Unfortunately, it turns out that the standard way of building pterosaur necks is to put some minimal muscle on the bones, and then add skin.
That might seem reasonable at first, right? I mean, you have bone, muscle, and some skin...
Except that such reconstructions leave out the entire
anterior compartment. That's the space that houses the hyoid bone, larynx, trachea, esophagus, and all of the hyoid muscles (including the base of the tongue). Now, we don't have these structures preserved in most pterosaur fossils, but we do have some hyoids preserved, and we know something about how vertebrate anatomy works in a general sense. We can use those clues to generate reasonable necks for our pterosaurs.
Later this spring I will be unveiling the most recent reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus
here on G+ (the folks at Southampton got a preview), and it follows the same trend: when you do some serious anatomical reconstruction, it turns out that the necks of azhdarchids could not be super thin. #sciencesunday