There have recently been a number of papers describing ‘lost’ or little known pterosaurs from around the world. I’ve covered the Rhamphorhynchus that sat undescribed in Dublin for over a century, and I’ve mentioned specimens on display in Japan that have never been in the literature. There are others too that are starting to come out, like a Pterodactylus in France and others in Hungary. While obviously some of these are making it into the literature, there are others that haven’t (like those in Tokyo and I know of one in Kiel) and I’m most interested in finding them.
There’s an obvious reason for this – completeness. While Peter Wellnhofer did a great job in the 70s of collating Solnhofen specimens and measurements in two major papers, a lot of time has passed since. New material has been discovered, and old material has come to light. I’m sure there’s a significant number of specimens now out there available for study that are either not in the literature at all, or are only mentioned or illustrated and have no good descriptions or measurements put down.
These are of course well worth knowing about. Pterosaurs remain rare and history alone means that the Solnhofen is the best studied and best known set of pterosaur fossils going. Combined with the presence of both pterodactyloids and more basal forms, and generally large numbers of good quality material it is perhaps our premier source of data right now. As such knowing what we have and maximising this is important for science and can allow us to do bigger and better analyses, or sort through what we have and select specimens that can be sacrificed for sampling or are worthy of further attention and preparation.
In my experience many of these ‘lost’ specimens are often on display, right there and easy to see (as pterosaurs are rare and often a prime piece worthy of exhibition). Provided of course you are in the museum to see them! The Kiel specimen I mentioned was one such – to my knowledge or that of any of my colleagues I’d spoken too, they simply didn’t have any Solnhofen material at all, none. So a pterosaur expert is rather unlikely to there to check out a tiny palaeontological collection which shouldn’t contain anything of interest and let’s face it, there’s a lot of museums out there.
Bearing that in mind, if you do come across a Solnhofen pterosaur in an odd and usual place (i.e. not the Carengie, or London NHM or the like) do please let me know. Sure it might turn out to be a cast, or even a well-known specimen, but the number that are increasingly coming out of the woodwork make me suspect there’s rather more out there and it would be great to try and track them all down and one day get them into the formal literature. If you have a photo or specimen number, even better, but a simple mention of what you saw in which museum would be a great start. I’m convinced there’s a significant number of specimens out there and they are well worth finding.