After a week of pterosaur posts, it’s time for Dave Martill to pitch in with this guest effort. Dave and Steve Etches have just described a new pterosaur and Dave has been kind enough to pen this little effort on the critter:
Cuspicephalus scarfi from the Late Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay Formation of Dorset is one of those irritating fossils. It was clearly a beautiful animal, with long, slender jaws and fine teeth that would have made it look impressive. It is without doubt a cracking fossil, displaying a near perfect right lateral outline, with only a little bit of the dorsal rest missing. OK, it is sad that the lower jaw and rest of skeleton is missing, but in the UK, this specimen is the best thing since the second specimen of Dimorphodon was discovered in the Lower Jurassic in the mid 1800s. But despite its near completeness for a British pterosaur skull, it is not entirely clear where it belongs in the grand scheme (or schemes), of pterosaur phylogeny. It appears to be a pterodactyloid similar to Germanodactylus on the basis of its single NAOF and straight dorsal border, but when compared with Darwinopterus, its affinities become less clear cut. Sure, it isn’t Darwinopterus, but it isn’t Germanodactylus in the strictest sense either. Dave Unwin thinks it might lie close to the base of Dsungaripteroidea, and I am inclined to agree, but caution that this is based mainly on the nature of its crest… not a good criterion given the distribution of elongate fibrous-looking crests in Pterosauria.
Cuspicephalus was discovered by Steve Etches. Known to most UK vertebrate palaeontologists, Steve collects fossils exclusively from the Kimmeridge Clay of Dorset and has built up a renowned collection housed in the Museum of Jurassic Marine Life (MJML) in Kimmeridge, Dorset. Steve discovered Cuspi on the wave cut platform in Kimmerdge Bay and reckons that one more tide would have destroyed it. Steve has found several other pterosaurs in the Kimmeridge Clay, some of which are represented by associated remains attributable to an animal close to Rhamphorhynhcus, and currently being examined by PhD student Michael O’Sullivan. A few specimens in Steve’s MJML have been identified as representing a germanodactylid by DMU, and it is possible that these elements are from the same animal as Cuspicephalus: clearly Steve needs to get out and find the complete skeleton. (Late edit: bonus images courtesy of Dave).
The name Cuspicephalus is derived from the sharp pointed nature of the skull in lateral view, and I suspect in dorsal view too, but Kimmeridge Clay fossils are rather 2D to tell. The specific epithet honours Gerald Scarfe CBE. Scarfe is known to most UK citizens as the artist who provided the caricatures for the intro to the extremely popular satirical TV series Yes Minister and follow up Yes Prime Minister. Both were excellent lampoons of the UKs higher civil servants and mainly incompetent elected politicians. Globally Scarfe is known to several generations of Pink Floyd fans as the artist behind The Wall (album, film and more).
To readers of certain newspapers and periodicals Scarfe is loved or laothed for hard hitting political caricatures, and in particular those of British Prime Ministers and other notorious world leaders. Many were reproducible in daily newspapers, but others remained within the underground literature for reasons of decency (check out Rupert bear ****ing Mary Whitehosue with the Pope watching on). One cartoon of Scarfe’s that stands out is a caricature of Margaret Thatcher, an ex British Prime Minister who Scarfe Portrayed as a Tory blue, saggy-breasted pterodactyle, and therefore it seemed only fair that he should be honoured. Scarfe’s cartoon might have the number of fingers wrong, and he might have followed the Frey and Riess model for the orientation of the pteroid, but we all know he got the colour right.