Here we go - drawing pterosaurs the Paleo King way!
I thought I was going to be too busy to finish this for the ArtEvolved gallery, but I have, not one but THREE smokin' hot pterosaur restorations finished (better late than never lol....). I wanted to do more but I figured three high-grade ones are better than ten crappy ones any day.
Now pterosaurs are not my number one area of expertise, but I do know them better than a lot of other creatures (say, for example, Anomalocarids!)
So I had to do a lot of extra research before drawing these guys accurately. And along the way I perfected what you might call "accurate guesswork" - that is, inferring likely proportions of parts of animals based on their close relatives - with a good dose of personal aesthetic appeal thrown in. With some pterosaurs little is known but the skull, and with others good skeletal diagrams are not always available, so educated guesses are more necessary than with stuff I'm more familiar with. I am one of the few people willing to reconstruct a poorly known species in great detail, but I'm not gonna lie, it's anything but easy going.
Soon as I get started on titanosaurs this will become obvious. As for the pterosaurs.... guesswork and interpretation are everywhere.
Wing membranes are the main point of contention - did they attach to the leg, the ankle, or somewhere else? After a lot of debating (which you can see on ArtEvolved) and consulting as many sources as I could find, I settled on the efficient design proposed by Gregory S. Paul - wing membranes attached to the tail, with the legs having their own individual membranes. With Pterodactyliods, this is a good explanation for why the tail was reduced but not lost altogether.
Female Pteranodon "ingens" skeletal by Gregory Paul. The classic large crest was only present in the males.
Note the free legs and how the wing membranes attach to the tail - which wasn't useful for much else.
Of course the ankle-attachment faction will cite this or that fossil, but in the debates I established that none of their evidence is 100% conclusive, and it can in fact be interpreted many different ways (though this provoked some very heated opposition). Membrane stains in slab fossils are often something else entirely. Not every stain is even part of the animal. But many of them do look like squashed skin that was once attached to the tail. Needless to say, this would also make steering easier, whether the tail was used to steer, as in most Rhamphorhynchoids (excluding Anurognathids) or whether steering was done with the legs as rudders (as was likely in pterodactyloids). Ankle attachment works fine for bats, but it would likely be a clumsy, restrictive, and highly maladaptive system for pterosaurs, whose wing anatomy and lifestyle were in fact VERY different from bats.
So with some exotic choices for the creatures and settings, here are the pictures!
Though Thalassodromeus was from Brazil, it's likely that it migrated long distances in search of feeding grounds and mates. Here they're flying over Argentina, overshadowing giant ornithocheirids flying below. A few Tapejara fly in the background near the mountain, while the ground is dominated by a herd of massive Argyrosaurus. (I plan to draw the 90-foot long Argyrosaurus as the main subject in a later work, which will definitely be a king-sized challenge).
I was fascinated by Thalassodromeus the moment I saw a picture of it (I think it was the one by Dr. Mark Witton), and I figured it was definitely on my list of pterosaurs for the gallery. This pterosaur has a gigantic head - the beak is deep and there's an obscenely huge crest. Thalassodromeus is a tupuxuarid, and unlike their relatives the tapejarids, they have crests of solid bone rather than a membrane supported by bony struts. The head was light and had low bone density, but still looks disproportionately large. The crest was almost certainly for sexual display, though it may have had some use for steering as well. Like many later pterodactyloids, this guy had no teeth, and was probably a fish eater - though whether it preferred freshwater or saltwater prey is impossible to tell.
Here, some of the last and largest pterosaurs soar over a flooded river in Late Cretaceous New Mexico, passing over three Alamosaurus. I actually began this drawing almost 8 years ago as something to pass the boring empty hours between final exams and summer vacation, and it lay unfinished, hidden in a book... when I rediscovered it I decided to complete it but noticed that the arm proportions on the Quetzalcoatlus were ALL WRONG. So I plunged into several skeletals and papers on giant azdarchids and other large pterosaurs and figured out some more or less accurate proportions for the segments. I went for tail attached rather than ankle attached wings. No complaining, it makes more sense this way! I still think the legs didn't quite come out right, but overall I'm pleased with the look. The toughest part was by far the landscape - after all the time I put into the pterosaurs, the landscape commanded a lot more detail and shading.
Aside from the unique color patterns, these are pretty much your standard Quetz's. The top view was a bit tricky (grrr... projects that require perfect symmetry...) but I'd easily do it again now that I have more experience. I gave them small crests near the back of the head, which is consistent with the remains. Artists used to draw Quetz's without a crest, until Greg Paul and others corrected this trend in the '80s. (You can check out Greg Paul's Quetz here, fending off a tyrannosaur). Quetzalcoatlus had a small crest (which is mostly broken on the type skull, leading to the initial error), not a huge one like Pteranodon or Nyctosaurus.
Anurognathus ammoni - the Definitive Version
I've seen a few different illustrations of the tiny Jurassic pterosaur Anurognathus - all of them very different, and NONE of them looked like Anurognathus! I've seen this little guy drawn as a prehistoric bat (by Dr. Mark Witton and MANY others), a flying toad (no, I'm not joking), a winged shrew with the face of a seal, a vampire-like creature with bloodshot eyes (thank you Mr. Bogdanov), and an odd chimera of filaments and fanciful outgrowths not found in the fossils (*cough* David Peters *cough cough*).
The wings attach to the tail, and interestingly unlike other rhamphorhynchoids, the anurognathids had short stubby tails - a trait converging on the more advanced pterodactyloids. Anurognathus was probably a fast and highly agile flyer which used its leg membranes for steering rather than relying on a long rudder-like tail. This design also made it capable of zig-zagging through tight spaces in dense Jurassic forests. Based on its small size and pointy teeth, it lived mostly on bugs, though it may have also gobbled up the occasional Jurassic fruit here and there. Like many insect-eating birds today, some cryptic coloration was probably present. The wing pattern turned out a bit too much like giraffe spots, but I ended up liking it.