Sharov’s Wing and a Message to My Readers


Holotype and only specimen of Sharovipteryx mirabilis (Sharov, 1971), photographed by Wikipedia user Ghedoghedo in Prague, Czech Republic, during the Dinosaurium exhibition in 2014.

Sharovipteryx mirabilis is one of those strange animals that entices much yet reveals little. A single specimen is known, presented a partial skeleton with impressions of bones and some skin. Bits of all parts are known, yet very little is easily discerned, and has confounded many.

While some might want to look deeper and closer using various lighting mechanisms such as UV exposure or chemical testing of material inclusions to determine whether bone, other organic tissue preservation is present and where. Yet others have taken to using photos not unlike the above photo, but at worse resolution, to describe whole swaths of “hidden” information. I would describe these methods but I will not waste my breath:

When you have to reduce the quality of your source material to invent “evidence” to fit a preconceived notion about the relationships of an animal, I think you’ve gone too far. I would say further than when you defend these methods in the face of increasing criticism, but claim you are doing science, you have a flawed definition of “science” wholly out of keeping with the definition and spirit of the word. Sadly, such efforts of low quality have been done, on this and many, many other non-dinosaurian tetrapod subjects, and rather than point you to an example, I decided as a countermeasure to contribute to more accurate efforts to depict some of these animals.

Thus, a skeletal reconstruction of Sharovipteryx mirabilis:

Sharovipteryx mirabilis (Sharov, 1971; originally named Podopteryx, was replaced with Sharovipteryx by Cowen in 1981). This skeletal reconstruction is released to the general public without restriction; thus, you are free to share it, modify it, share the modified version, slap it in memes, print it out, whatever. Whatever.

Some notes:

  1. Almost the entirety of the shoulder girdle, forearm, pelvis, gastral basket, haemal arches are reconstructed after other archosauromorphs.
  2. The only soft-tissue shown is the muscle, skin, body fat, and the large membranes between the toes and along the back of the leg.
  3. Inference was taken from a recently described relative, Ozimek volans Dzik & Sulej, 2016. In that work, Sharovipteryx and Ozimek were inferred to be members of the peculiar group Tanystropheidae, which is undergoing substantial revision at the moment. Unlike Ozimek, Sharovipteryx has a longer, strap like scapula.
  4. Because the specimen is preserved exposed from above, a side view has to be extrapolated. The largest error I can foresee is the side view of the skull, which hasn’t been reconstructed as closely after Ozimek.
Reconstruction of Ozimek volans Dzik & Sulej, 2016, reassembled from CT-extracted bones.

This animal is depicted in the act of leaping. A recent study of Scleromochlus taylori by Bennett (2020) found evidence the small Elgin archosauriform consistent with leaping, due in part to disparity in hindlimb to forelimb length. However, rather than infer based solely on this, I simply show this leaping rather than as a “hopper” as Bennett inferred for Scleromochlus, which I don’t otherwise discuss here. Work by Dyke et al. (2006) and implied for some time indicated the legs and their membranes formed a functional and effective aerofoil and would have allowed Sharovipteryx to be a reasonable glider. Thus, here Sharovipteryx is leaping, perhaps from a tree, to create momentum for a long glide.

References

  1. Sharov, A. G. 1971. New flying reptiles from the Mesozoic of Kazakhstan and Kirghizia. [Transactions of the Paleontological Institute] 130: 104-113. [in Russian]
  2. Cowen, R. 1981. “Homonyms of Podopteryx“. Journal of Paleontology55 (2): 483.
  3. Dyke, G. J., Nudds, R. L. & Rayner, J. M. V. 2006. Flight of Sharovipteryx mirabilis: the world’s first delta-winged glider. Journal of Evolutionary Biology19 (4): 1040-1043.
  4. Dzik, J. & Sulej, T. 2016. An early Late Triassic long-necked reptile with a bony pectoral shield and gracile appendages. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 61 (4): 805-823.
  5. Bennett, S. C. 2020. Reassessment of the Triassic archosauriform Scleromochlus taylori: neither runner nor biped, but hopper. PeerJ 8: e8418.

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8 Responses to Sharov’s Wing and a Message to My Readers

  1. Hi Jaime, I hate to pop your contempt bubble, but as luck would have it, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama came to my hometown, St. Louis, MO, USA, a few decades ago in a traveling exhibit of Russian Dinosaurs. Taking advantage of the situation, I had a professional photographer take 8×10 transparencies. These I keep in my files. The transparencies were scanned at 1200 dpi and this is what I now have on my left screen. Sharovipteryx is wonderfully preserved down to every fiber and wrinkle. That I made mistakes in my first ever paper (Peters 2000) I chalk up to freshman naiveté and following traditions. I didn’t know then what I know now. What you portray above is a hand-painted cast made from a rubber mold of the original. Not sure where you got your information about “others have taken to using photos not unlike the above photo, but at worse resolution, to describe whole swaths of “hidden” information”, or about the authenticity of the specimen you found in Wikipedia … but you’ve been swindled twice. And you chose to believe your swindlers because that’s the peer pressure thing to do. You can learn more about Sharovipteryx online here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328388115_Cosesaurus_aviceps_Sharovipteryx_mirabilis_and_Longisquama_insignis_Reinterpreted The only thing about it that has to be imagined is the sternal complex still buried beneath the chest. Other info here: http://reptileevolution.com/sharovipteryx.htm

  2. PS to your credit you posed Sharovipteryx as a biped. That’s pretty rare out there.

  3. Jaime
    There is a group of mostly South American grasshoppers (family Eumastacidae), most or all of which are wingless in the usual sense of insect wings, that have winglets in the hindlegs that remind me of those of Sharovipteryx. The winglets may help reduce the speed of their descent at the end of a leap but, at least in those that I’ve seen, while the body is green but, when they open their legs to leap their winglets are white, suggesting that they may serve to startle potential predators and/or serve as a signal to conspecifics.

    • Sharo’s membranes being brightly colored to scare away predators is something I never considered. This is actually a really creative thought, and if I ever get to Sharo paleoart, I’m gonna do it.

  4. Pingback: Hellfrog Maximum | The Bite Stuff

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