- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Pi Press; 1St Edition edition (August 25, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 013146308X
- ISBN-13: 978-0131463080
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 1 x 10.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,657,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time 1St Edition Edition
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About the Author
DAVID UNWIN, Ph.D., is the curator for fossil reptiles and birds, Museum of Natural History, Humbolt University, Berlin. A world renowned, leading authority on pterosaurs, he has published extensively in scientific publications on their wing membranes, walking ability, and the history of the group. He lives with his wife Natalie Bakhurina—also an internationally respected pterosaur expert—in Berlin.
Top customer reviews
The first chapter was a general introduction to these "dragons of the air." These reptiles first took to the air 215 million years during the Triassic and thrived for 150 million years, vanishing with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. Unwin recounted some of the difficulties of studying pterosaurs; many of their fossilized remains consist of only scattered, broken bones (saying little more than "here be pterosaurs"), even complete skeletons are often extremely distorted by geological processes owing to the hollow-tube bones of these animals (forming what he called "picture fossils" or "road-kills"), researchers are often trapped in their thinking by following birds and bats too closely as analogues, and sometimes people are guilty of "temporal chauvinism," the notion that somehow pterosaurs were inherently inferior to modern fliers. Unwin wrote that "pterosaurology" has really taken off starting in the 1990s thanks to remarkable new finds in South America and China, new imaging techniques like CAT scanning and photographing in UV light, and computer modeling of pterosaur movement.
Chapter two was pretty basic, discussing the Mesozoic world in general.
Chapter three, titled "Considering Medusa," discussed how pterosaurs became fossils and showcased some of the most remarkable fossils ever found (my favorite was "the tree-biter", a _Ludodactylus_ from Lower Cretaceous Brazil that apparently got a yucca leaf lodged in its throat sac and starved to death; one can even see the frayed end of the yucca leaf, where the pterosaur may have tried to dislodge it by rubbing it against the ground). Only around 5,000-6,000 pterosaur fossils are known and only 100 have preserved soft parts.
Chapter four looked at the pterosaur family tree, how the approximately 100 species described thus far are related to one another. There were eight main branches, ranging from the dimorphodontids, the least derived of all pterosaurs to the azhdarchoids, the last pterosaurs of the Mesozoic and whose numbers include the largest flying creature of all time, _Quetzalcoatlus_, which may have had wingspans of 10 meters (33 feet) or more. A key point in this chapter is understanding the difference between the earlier rhamphorhynchoids and the later, more diverse pterodactyloids.
Chapter five examined pterosaur head anatomy, which like further anatomical discussions was both informative and not too hard for the interested layperson to follow as his discussion was well-supported with illustrations and helpful definitions. He looked at pterosaur teeth (with few rare exceptions, they had no cutting edges to dismember prey or cut off bite-sized chunks or anything to grind or pulp food, though one group became filter-feeders and another was able to crush clams and crabs in its jaws), how at least one group, the insectivorous anurognathids, had short bristles rimming the edges of their mouths like modern nightjars, helping it to catch insects, and the weird world of pterosaur crests (check out the extraordinary forked crest of _Nyctosaurus_).
Chapter six looked at other features of pterosaur anatomy. It is important in particular to understand the pteroid (there is debate over whether it is equivalent to a thumb or a bone unique to pterosaurs), a bone that had a huge role in pterosaur aerodynamics and the notarium (unique to the larger pterodactyloids). Also discussed are pterosaur body covering ("hair" that wasn't really hair) and issues of pterosaur metabolism (how things like hair, a largish brain, and fibro-lamellar bone tissue are "consistent with an active physiology" but "do not necessarily demand it").
Chapter seven looked at pterosaur young. In 2004, after 200 years, not one but three pterosaur eggs were found in the space of six months. Pterosaurs laid soft-shell eggs, showed no evidence of taking care of their young, and apparently could fly and fend from themselves very shortly after birth (if not immediately). Interestingly, it would seem that pterosaurs at different life stages fed on different prey items and filled different ecological roles (something prevalent in the Mesozoic) and there were few "small" species of pterosaur to compete with young, as the young were the "small" species in effect. Owing to how pterosaurs laid their eggs and issues relating to how big they could get and when they reached sexual maturity, pterosaurs appear to still have much in common with other reptiles.
Chapter eight looked at how pterosaurs flew. Were they passive gliders or active fliers? This chapter showed that they were clearly active fliers and in some ways may have been more efficient than birds or bats. Key points in this chapter are understanding the microscopic structure of wing membranes (particularly the presence and role of wing fibers), the overall arrangement of the flight membranes (the patagia, divided into a propatagium or fore-wing, cheiropatagium or hand-wing - the biggest membrane - and a leg-wing or cruropatagium, which crucially for purposes of ground locomotion and available ecological niches was split up the middle in the pterodacytloids), the role of the pteroid and the notarium, and the role that the webbed feet of pterosaurs played (working much like twin tail fins).
Chapter nine looked at one of the most contentious of issues, how pterosaurs moved upon the ground. The rhamphorhynchoids were excellent climbers but were barely crawlers while the pterodactyloids were quite capable walkers.
Chapter ten looked at the overall history of pterosaur evolution, of when different groups arose, their ecological roles, and when and why they eventually went extinct. Interesting facts include that the rhamphorhynchoids were extremely conservative, evolutionary speaking, changing little in 75 million years; pterosaurs reached their greatest diversity in lifestyles and in numbers of species in the Early Cretaceous (slightly more than half of all known species come from this time), and that only toothless forms survived until the Late Cretaceous.