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Working With Pterosaur Specimens

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Pterosaurs, like other vertebrate fossils, are not easy to work with.  There are many good quality specimens which give a wealth of data to this science, but they are relatively rare.  Most of the finds are of isolated bones and fragments of specimens.

When an animal dies, it will either be eaten or it will decay naturally.  Carcases are usually recycled into the ecosystem in one way or another.  In unusual circumstances a carcase may survive.  It needs to be buried very quickly and starved of oxygen to prevent much of the bacteria decomposing the organic material.  In fact, many fossils are preserved in a state of partial decay and the bones may be displaced from their natural associations.  More often, a carcase will be dismembered by carnivores or scavengers and bits will be dropped to be fossilised in isolation.

As a result of this random process, the fossil record is often a series of little windows in time and the vast amount of the missing record has to be inferred between dated finds.

       

Above are three specimens that illustrate this.  On the left is a complete fossil showing the wing membrane and other soft tissues.  In the centre is a disarticulated skeleton from a carcase in a state of decomposition.  On the right is a fragment of an upper jaw.