Suggested reading: Fossils reveal Pterosaur relatives before they evolved wings

by Jack Tamisiea

Few creatures were built to soar like pterosaurs. Tens of millions of years before the earliest birds, these Mesozoic reptiles had pioneered flight with sail-shaped wings and lightweight bones. Eventually pterosaurs the size of small planes would take to the sky, pushing the boundaries of animal aviation.

But the origins of these reptiles have remained murky because of a lack of fossils from the earliest fliers. “The oldest pterosaur we have already had wings and were capable fliers,” said Davide Foffa, a paleontologist at Virginia Tech, which makes it difficult to chart their aerial evolution.

For decades, paleontologists have postulated that the earliest pterosaurs dwelled in trees and experimented with gliding before flying. But Dr. Foffa and his colleagues may have discovered a more ground-bound origin for these ancient aviators. In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the researchers reanalyzed a cache of fossils and concluded that the earliest pterosaur relatives were off to a running start long before they took off. … (continue at The New York Times)

15 Comments

  1. This is so interesting because it deals with one of the many significant step changes in evolutionary history. These step changes are, I suppose, the result of a positive feedback loop which rapidly accelerates the change so that, from our perspective, they appear to be a step change. Then these beneficial adaptations spread, becoming more widely adopted.

    But the largest, and by far the most beneficial of all evolutionary step changes, cognition, has only appeared once. That I find profoundly puzzling.

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    1. Well, cognition seems to require very large brain-to-body ratios, which is a very expensive thing, metabolically speaking. Also, the jury is still out there whether cognition has evolved only once. Octopuses are decent candidates for a second case.

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  2. Or perhaps, is it a case of whoever acquires cognition first, suppresses its appearance everywhere else to preserve their powerful advantage? This could explain why other hominids, such as Neanderthals disappeared. Perhaps the Bible was not so wrong after all and Cain really did kill Abel. The just so stories were perhaps a highly embellished narrative record that contained the remnants of a small kernel of truth.

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  3. Of course it is only conjecture, but it is fascinating to speculate. It is great to let the imagination run wild from time to time. During my corporate incarnation we were encouraged to do just this(not all or even most of the time, heaven forbid) as it proved to be the seedbed of innovation.

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    1. Hmm, I don’t believe in letting the imagination run wild in the sense of detached from arguments and evidence. Therein lie conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, among other things.

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  4. The creative imagination of our species is an astounding thing. It is marvellously and gloriously fecund. It has produced the most immense body of beauty. No, I unashamedly and gladly celebrate the imagination. May it continue to flourish in all its splendour and excellence.

    The things you are talking about are a very different matter in that the products of imagination are passed of as being an accurate representation of reality. Moreover, their intent is not creative but to deceive.. They are malicious impostors and should be exposed as such.

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    1. We are not talking about imagination in general. We are talking about imagining, without argument or evidence, a connection between a biblical story and pre-historical occurrences. I see no point or value in that, not in imagination in general.

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  5. Also, the jury is still out there whether cognition has evolved only once. Octopuses are decent candidates for a second case.

    I think that would be in agreement with my hypothesis of competitive extinction. They are not competitors, their cognitive abilities are very hard to discern(which is why there is still doubt) and are in any case beyond our reach(of primitive man).

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  6. More generally about imagination as we are talking about it here. There are many instances where we have puzzling observations but little or no evidence to support any explanatory hypotheses. And it might also be the case there is little prospect of ever obtaining the evidence. What should we do in that case? We could refrain from trying to imagine some kind of ‘plausible’ hypothesis. Apart from being a hopelessly boring approach, it is also not in our nature. We are driven by curiosity and will always try to produce explanatory hypotheses for puzzling observations, no matter how scant the evidence or how unlikely it is that we will ever obtain the evidence.

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  7. We are talking about imagining, without argument or evidence, a connection between a biblical story and pre-historical occurrences. I see no point or value in that

    That is your personal preference and I respect that. My preference is for free-ranging speculation and wonderment. The point or value in that, for me, is that it is enriching to engage the imagination in these enquiries. Mind you, I am very careful to draw a clear line between the known and the speculative. But I am unafraid to venture beyond that line in an imaginative way.

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    1. To say that I’m expressing my preference isn’t very helpful. So are you. But we are also advancing arguments, which is more useful. And less subjective.

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  8. Hi Massimo, there always comes time when one should draw a line under the discussion and quit. I enjoy our discussions and had several arguments lined up in reply. And then I remembered Coel and DM (grin). I have decided not to emulate them but quit instead.

    Thanks for the post and engaging in the discussion. Very enjoyable.

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