Perplexing Pterodactyls — Fossils Reveal Feathers or No?

Extinct Monsters London :Chapman & Hall,1896. Biodiversity Heritage Library, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

By Jim Brace-Thompson

For a couple of decades now, feathered dinosaurs have been all the rage. This interest follows on discoveries of spectacularly preserved ancient birds and bird-like dinos in Liaoning Province, China. The sediments there preserved bones and soft features like impressions, internal organs, and feathers.

Paleontologists studying non-dinosaurian flying reptiles (the Pterosaurs) soon jumped on the bandwagon. They began noting what appeared to be a fuzzy covering like gosling down on what was previously considered to be leathery, bat-like wings. Suddenly, books picturing Mesozoic dinosaurs and reptiles became filled with shaggy, fuzz-covered pterodactyls.

But hold on!

A recent study indicates that what folks took to be a coating of down may have been fibers from the wing membrane’s internal structure. Such fibers appear to have peeled away like thin filaments after death and before the preservation process. It appears, we may well be back to wings like leather. It would seem that, like Fuzzy Wuzzy the bear in the popular nursery rhyme, Terry the pterodactyl wasn’t really fuzzy. Was he?


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