Google “pterosaurs” and you’ll likely be looking at an image montage of long-beaked, stern-looking dinosaurs who, if alive today, would strike fear in the hearts of humankind. A new study published in the journal Paleontology and Evolutionary Science, however, is here to remind you that not all pterosaurs, particularly the anurognathids, were so… pointy. The paper describes a new genus and species from the Middle-Late Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation, and this baby is round.
This new species is of particular interest as it demonstrates there was greater morphological diversity within the anurognathids than previously thought. It’s perhaps unsurprising that such discoveries are being made when you consider the fact that, when this paper was written, the anurognathids consisted of six nominal species known from just 12 specimens which were recovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and North Korea.
“Some previous interpretations of anurognathid morphology and systematics have relied on limited available information,” wrote the study authors. “With time and new specimens being discovered, new data have been provided and new interpretations were presented. For this reason, each new specimen is crucial for the understanding of the group.”
The new species in the paper was named Sinomacrops bondei, and it marks the first anurognathid found to date with its skull exposed in lateral view. Following a phylogenetic analysis, the researchers on the study placed the novel find as a sister-group of the pterosaur Batrachognathus volans, joining forces to constitute the Batrachognathinae genus.
The open-access paper came complete with a particularly aesthetically pleasing piece of palaeoart by Zhao Chuang, which has seen the shiny new (to science) pterosaur gain a lot of fans online. Peer reviewer on the study and PhD Palaeontology student Natalia Jagielska made a particularly choice comparison on Twitter, demonstrating how similar the doe-eyed beast looks to Porgs. Made famous by the 2017 film Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi, Porgs are “Small, flat-muzzled avians that flock about the rocks and roost in the cliffs of Luke Skywalker's secluded island,” and “inquisitive creatures,” according to the StarWars.com databank.
The resulting thread from Jagielska’s observation could perhaps be said to highlight a flaw in existing taxonomical vocabulary in depriving the scientific community of descriptions such as “jowly fly boi” and “fuzzy flying frog with tail”. Lacking in the necessary detail to make them of any value in phylogenetic studies? Perhaps, but I think you’ll agree we could all stand to gain from a few more jowly fly bois in our lives.