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J Evol Biol. 2006 Jul;19(4):1339-42.

Limb disparity and wing shape in pterosaurs.

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School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


The limb proportions of the extinct flying pterosaurs were clearly distinct from their living counterparts, birds and bats. Within pterosaurs, however, we show that further differences in limb proportions exist between the two main groups: the clade of short-tailed Pterodactyloidea and the paraphyletic clades of long-tailed rhamphorhynchoids. The hindlimb to forelimb ratios of rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs are similar to that seen in bats, whereas those of pterodactyloids are much higher. Such a clear difference in limb ratios indicates that the extent of the wing membrane in rhamphorhynchoids and pterodactyloids may also have differed; this is borne out by simple ternary analyses. Further, analyses also indicate that the limbs of Sordes pilosus, a well-preserved small taxon used as key evidence for inferring the extent and shape of the wing membrane in all pterosaurs, are not typical even of its closest relatives, other rhamphorhynchoids. Thus, a bat-like extensive hindlimb flight membrane, integrated with the feet and tail may be applicable only to a small subset of pterosaur diversity. The range of flight morphologies seen in these extinct reptiles may prove much broader than previously thought.

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