Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching

Zixiao Yang, Baoyu Jiang*, Maria E. McNamara, Stuart L. Kearns, Michael Pittman, Thomas G. Kaye, Patrick J. Orr, Xing Xu, Michael J. Benton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
485 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to achieve true flapping flight, but in the absence of living representatives, many questions concerning their biology and lifestyle remain unresolved. Pycnofibres—the integumentary coverings of pterosaurs—are particularly enigmatic: although many reconstructions depict fur-like coverings composed of pycnofibres, their affinities and function are not fully understood. Here, we report the preservation in two anurognathid pterosaur specimens of morphologically diverse pycnofibres that show diagnostic features of feathers, including non-vaned grouped filaments and bilaterally branched filaments, hitherto considered unique to maniraptoran dinosaurs, and preserved melanosomes with diverse geometries. These findings could imply that feathers had deep evolutionary origins in ancestral archosaurs, or that these structures arose independently in pterosaurs. The presence of feather-like structures suggests that anurognathids, and potentially other pterosaurs, possessed a dense filamentous covering that probably functioned in thermoregulation, tactile sensing, signalling and aerodynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-30
Number of pages7
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Volume3
Issue number1
Early online date17 Dec 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

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