According to a new study, pterosaurs may have been completely bald. These prehistoric flying reptiles lived with the dinosaurs and dominated the skies during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Based on the remains of several different pterosaur species, they grew as large as a plane and as small as a sparrow.
This may come as a surprise to those who remember that nearly two years ago I reported that researchers had claimed that pterosaurs had plumage that was similar to bird feathers (my article can be read here).
In that nearly two-year-old report, researchers found four different kinds of fibers on the bodies ancient pterosaurs with one of the fibers being fuzzy and fur-like that was found on the head, torso, limbs, and tail. The other three fibers were curved, thread-like feathers that were found on the head and wings. And they were quite possibly colorful.
However, a new study conducted by British palaeobiologists David Unwin and Dave Martill suggests that pterosaurs never had any type of fur or feathers. “The idea of feathered pterosaurs goes back to the nineteenth century but the fossil evidence was then, and still is, very weak,” Unwin explained, adding, “Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence – we have the former, but not the latter.”
If the previous study from around two years ago was correct, it would mean that feathers evolved at least 80 million years prior to what is believed and would have originated in ancestors of pterosaurs as well as dinosaurs. It would also mean that dinosaurs originated with feathers and eventually lost them in evolution. However, Unwin and Martill believe that these “protofeathers” were in fact only tough fibers that formed on the wing membranes of pterosaurs and that when the remains were found, the fibers had begun to decay and unravel which made them look similar to hair-like filaments.
The debate is far from over as many questions still remain, such as “If they really did have feathers, how did that make them look, and did they exhibit the same fantastic variety of colors exhibited by birds?” Martill asked, along with, “And if they didn’t have feathers, then how did they keep warm at night, what limits did this have on their geographic range, did they stay away from colder northern climes as most reptiles do today. And how did they thermoregulate?” He finished off by stating, “The clues are so cryptic, that we are still a long way from working out just how these amazing animals worked.”
Whether they had feathers or not, pterosaurs are very interesting prehistoric flying reptiles to say the least and any news regarding them is absolutely fascinating. The new study was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution where it can be read in full.