Honey, I blew up the pterosaur skull – Shenzhoupterus

While it’s probably a reasonable assumption that we now have all the major groups of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, new ones do on occasion pop up. The alvarezsaurs have only really been around for 20 years and the scansoriopterigids might well turn out to be another one. In the case of the pterosaurs, the azhdarchoids have undergone a huge bloom in recent decades with several clades having been identified and are now represented by multiple species.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these are the tongue-twisting chaoyangopterids which have, for want of a better phrase, blown up heads. Monofenestratan pterosaurs (so that’s pterodactyloids plus things like Darwinopterus) are in part diagnosed by having a single large fenestra in the anterior of the skull that represents a coming together of the naris and the antorbital fenestra. In some cases this can get really big and ‘fill’ a large chunk of the skull meaning that there can be more space than bone. However, in the case of chaoyangopterids, the top of the skull is bowed outwards enormously and all that extra skull volume is filled by the nasoantorbital fenestra giving them a bizzarely shaped head that consists of thin bone struts and a hue amount of nothing.

Here’s one of them, Shenzhoupterus, showing off that truly bizarre cranium. My thanks to Lu Junchang for the opportunity to see this at Flugsaurier 2010 in Beijing.

7 Responses to “Honey, I blew up the pterosaur skull – Shenzhoupterus”


  1. 1 Kilian Hekhuis 15/02/2011 at 10:38 am

    So where were the eyes located? Somewhere in the void?

    • 2 David Hone 15/02/2011 at 11:02 am

      Nope that void does not include the orbit. That is behind in the mass of bone, though crushing and displacement of various bits means that it’s hidden and not at all clear on the photos. It should be quite low down and just behind that huge NAOF.

  2. 3 Mark Robinson 17/02/2011 at 9:49 am

    Well, you’ve already answered my first Q! My second is – Is that a small keel on the mandible or an artifact of distortion during preservation?

    • 4 David Hone 17/02/2011 at 10:11 am

      I wouldn’t quite call it a keel, but yeah, it’s a genuine extension of the lower jaw. You actually see this in varying forms in quite a few pterosaurs, like this Pteranodon: https://archosaurmusings.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/ptn034.jpg

      • 5 Mark Robinson 18/02/2011 at 9:32 am

        Yeah, sorry. “Keel” has a functional connotation that I didn’t mean to imply. I meant whatever you would call a downward-pointing crest (ventral mid-line prominence?).

      • 6 David Hone 18/02/2011 at 9:39 am

        No you’re fine with ‘keel’. It’s often used in anatomical descriptions to talk about a big flange-like extension off a bone. The reason I said I wouldn’t quite call it a keel is in this one it’s just not that big or well developed.


  1. 1 Finding the fliers – pterosaur discoveries « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 13/05/2011 at 7:55 am
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