Mark Witton explains exactly what is in his new book, Pterosaurs

Pterosaurs is meant to provide an interesting read for researchers and diehard enthusiasts, while still being approachable for those who are yet to really acquaint themselves with flying reptiles. If you’re familiar with the Unwin and Wellnhofer books, you know the tone I’ve aimed for. (Those interested in reading a sample of the text will want to download the first chapter from Princeton University Press, and check out an early draft [essentially unchanged in the published text] of Chapter 17.) Pterosaurs is, of course, more up to date than either of these books. Only seven years passing between this book and the last, but the differences are quite pronounced. Despite both Unwin’s and Wellnhofer’s books dating very well, whole groups of pterosaurs have been discovered since their publications (e.g. ‘boreopterids’, chaoyangopterids, wukongopterids, and many more in the case of Wellnhofer’s tome) and ideas of pterosaur lifestyles and habits have changed considerably. It’s of small significance in this field of three modern pterosaur books but, by default, Pterosaurs is the most up to date synthesis on these animals currently available.

Thalassodromeus sethi, a pterosaur with a most unfortunate name, showing a baby Brazilian spinosaur that the food chain works both ways. One of my favourite paintings from Witton (2013).

Pterosaurs is meant to combine the best aspects of preceding pterosaur books into one package, putting Unwin’s terrific introduction to the group together with Wellnhofer’s coverage of all pterosaur species and important fossils. This results in nine chapters covering the broad-strokes of pterosaur research: the history of their discovery, evolutionary origins, osteology, soft-tissues, locomotion (flight and terrestrial locomotion are discussed separately), palaeoecology and extinction. The other 16 chapters focus on specific pterosaur groups, each featuring a history of discovery, distribution maps, overviews of anatomy (including soft-tissues, where known) and discussions of palaeoecology. These latter chapters broadly follow the phylogenetic scheme of Lü et al. (2010) but, because that will not please everyone, alternative taxonomic proposals are mentioned and discussed where relevant (though hopefully not at expense of readability!). Attempts to present different sides to contentious issues are continual throughout the book. As readers will discover, there is still a lot to learn about these animals and it would be foolish to present only a single view as ‘right’ when pterosaur science continues to evolve and change. The drive to give everyone fair hearing resulted in a reference list of over 500 works and, hopefully, this will make the book a useful starting point for students new to pterosaurs and wanting to hit the primary literature. (Incidentally, Lü Junchang needs to take a bow as probably the most prolific modern pterosaur worker, his portion of the citation list dwarfing virtually everyone else’s despite only beginning in the mid-nineties. Way to go, JC!)


Read the complete post over at Mark’s blog:




Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy
Mark P. Witton