What is PteroTerra?

PteroTerra is a pterosaur database web application that can interface with Google Earth to allow a user to view pterosaur data on a global perspective. The database currently contains over 1300 pterosaur specimens with various criteria displayed including taxon name, classification, geologic age, geographic location of discovery, geologic formation, rock type, paleoenvironment, articulation, wingspan, proposed diet, and housing institution. Specimens can be downloaded as a .kml file which can be viewed in Google Earth, ArcGIS, or other kinds of mapping software. Users can also create groups based on a criterion of interest (e.g., Jurassic pterosaurs, fruit-eating pterosaurs, disarticulated specimens, etc), and then map those groups. Information on pterosaur specimens was collected from the primary literature and museums.

Who runs PteroTerra?

PteroTerra is maintained by Matthew McLain, Brad Chase, and Ryan Devlin.

What is a pterosaur?

Pterosaurs are extinct flying reptiles whose fossils are found in Mesozoic rocks (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous). There are many species currently known (>150), and their fossils are known from every continent (Barrett et al, 2008) as well as Greenland (Jenkins et al, 2001) and New Zealand (Wiffen and Molnar, 1988). Although there are many small species of pterosaurs, the largest flying animals of all time were also pterosaurs (from the family Azhdarchidae).

Most researchers place Pterosauria (the group containing pterosaurs) with Dinosauria, Crocodylia, Aves (birds), and other groups in the clade Archosauria (Nesbitt, 2011). Pterosauria and Dinosauria are also traditionally placed in the clade Ornithodira (Hone and Benton, 2007), with Pterosauria as the sister taxon to Dinosauromorpha. However, not all authors agree, and Bennett (1996) found Pterosauria to be within Archosauromorpha but not Archosauria.

Reptilia
└─ Synapsida → Mammal-like reptiles and mammals
└─ Anapsida → Extinct reptiles with no descendants
└─ Diapsida
  └─ Lepidosauromorpha → Lizards, snakes, mosasaurs, etc…
  └─ Ichthyopterygia → Ichthyosaurs
  └─ Archosauromorpha
    └─ Protorosauria → Tanystropheus, Drepanosaurus, etc…
    └─ Trilophosauria → Trilophosaurus, etc…
    └─ Rhyncosauria → Rhynchosaurs
    └─ Archosauriformes
      └─ Erythrosuchidae → Erythrosuchus, etc…
      └─ Euparkeriidae → Euparkeria, etc…
      └─ Archosauria
        └─ Pseudosuchia → Crocodiles, aetosaurs, etc...
        └─ Avemetatarsalia
          └─ Scleromochlidae → Scleromochlus
          └─ Ornithodira
            └─ Pterosauria
            └─ Dinosauromorpha
              └─ Lagerpetonidae
              └─ Dinosauriformes
                └─ Silesauridae
                └─ Dinosauria
Figure 1: Simplified cladogram showing the relationship between Pterosauria and other reptilian groups. Clades on the line to Pterosauria are indicated by bold letters. Cladogram mainly adapted from Nesbitt (2011).

There is no clear consensus among researchers on the details of the ingroup relationships of pterosaurs. The old system of two suborders: Rhamphorhynchoidea and Pterodactyloidea is no longer maintained because “Rhamphorhynchoidea” is now recognized as paraphyletic (a group containing the ancestors but not all of the descendants). The major phylogenies all agree on this point, but the details are still widely debated between different authors (Kellner, 2003; Unwin, 2003; Andres and Myers, 2013).

Pterosaurs, birds, and bats have very different flying apparatuses. In birds, the fingers are reduced and the wing is made up mainly of the feathers. In bats, the wing is made up of the arm and four fingers with skin stretched between them to the ankle. In pterosaurs, the wing is made up of the arm and one very long finger (digit IV). Skin (the patagium) attaches from the end of this long finger digit back to the leg. Pterosaurs also had a propatagium which seems to have stretched from the shoulder to the pteroid bone (a bone unique to pterosaurs found medial to the fingers). Finally, pterosaurs had a uropatagium which connected the legs to the tail.

Can I enter or edit data in PteroTerra?

Only administrators can enter or edit data in PteroTerra. We recommend pterosaur researchers who are interested in contributing to PteroTerra to contact Matthew McLain at mmclain@llu.edu.

PteroTerra and its administrators cannot be held responsible for user-uploaded content. If illegal or inaccurate content is uploaded onto PteroTerra, the individual who uploaded that content is solely responsible.

What is the point of becoming a user?

Once you become a user, you can create and edit groups of pterosaur specimens. To become a user, simply click on “Sign up” in the upper right hand corner of the main page. Then, follow the instructions given.

How is PteroTerra related to the Paleobiology Database?

The Paleobiology Database (PBDB) (http://paleobiodb.org) is a community run online database of information on occurrences of fossil taxa. As such, it is well-maintained, well-established, and it contains a plethora of information on pterosaurs as well as other fossil taxa. With the addition of the Navigator application (http://paleobiodb.org/navigator), pterosaur occurrences can be mapped on the world or on paleogeographic maps.

Thus, PBDB is very similar to PteroTerra in many ways. However, PteroTerra is a specimen-based database, whereas the basic unit of PBDB is the taxon occurrence. PteroTerra can be used to study individual specimens, and it allows users to easily map specimens based on any criterion they wish. PteroTerra, unlike PBDB, is currently weak on taxonomic histories and classification data. If users are interested in that kind of information, we suggest they follow one of the links posted above for PBDB.

References

Andres, B., and Myers, T.S., 2013, Lone Star pterosaurs: Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, v. 103, p. 383–398.

Barrett, P.M., Butler, R.J., Edwards, N.P., and Milner, A.R., 2008, Pterosaur distribution in time and space: an atlas: Zitteliana, v. B28, p. 61–107.

Bennett, S.C., 1996, The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, v. 118, no. 3, p. 261-308.

Hone, D.W.E. and Benton, M.J., 2007, An evaluation of the phylogenetic relationships of the pterosaurs among archosauromorph reptiles: Journal of Systematic Paleontology, v. 5, no. 4, p. 465-469.

Jenkins, F.A., Jr., Shubin, N.H., Gatesy, S.M., and Padian, K., 2001, A diminutive pterosaur (Pterosauria: Eudimorphodontidae) from the Greenlandic Triassic: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, v. 156, no. 1, p. 151–170.

Kellner, A.W.A., 2003, Pterosaur phylogeny and comments on the evolutionary history of the group, in Buffetaut, E. and Mazin, J.-M. eds., Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs, 217, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 105–137.

Nesbitt, S.J., 2011, The early evolution of Archosauria: relationships and the origin of major clades: Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, v. 352, p. 1-

292.

Unwin, D.M., 2003, On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs, in Buffetaut, E. and Mazin, J.-M. eds., Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs, 217, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 139-190.

Wiffen, J., and Molnar, R.E., 1988, First pterosaur from New Zealand: Alcheringa, v. 12, p. 53–59.