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“Inaccessible” Early K anurognathid from North Korea traced and reconstructed

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Chinese paleontologists, Gao et al. 2009,
accepted an invitation to visit North Korea to describe a small anurognathid (unnamed, unnumbered, Figs 1–3) from “The Lower Cretaceous Sinuiju Series of the Jasong Supergroup.” Not sure what I’m missing here, but in the text Gao et al report, “and now the new fossil discovery from North Korea may well provide the evidence for a geologically younger range extension of the family into the Upper Cretaceous.” And “In general, several bird fossils from the Sinuiju Series, North Korea, document the occurrence of confuciusornithid and enantiornithine birds in the Upper Cretaceous of the Korean Peninsula, and may include some other forms that have not been previously recognized in the fossil record.”

These could be editing mistakes as the title of this paper reports, “Early Cretaceous.”

Figure 1. North Korean anurognathid in situ. No giant eyeball in the anterior skull here,.. or in any other anurognathid. That was Bennett’s 2007 mistake now repeated as mythology.

Gao et al. reported, an approximate length
of this pterosaur at 25cm. Here it has a snout-vent length of 12cm. Gao estimated the wingspan at 80cm. Here it measures only 56cm (f the scale bar is correct). Gao reported, “The skull is bilaterally compressed, but the postcranial skeleton is dorso-ventrally compressed as preserved.” Actually the skull was disc-shaped in vivo (Fig 3) and was also dorso-ventrally compressed during fossilization. The rest of the description is more or less trouble-free.

Figure 2. The North Korean anurrognathid following DGS tracing from figure 1 is reconstructed here. Gray parts are copies that are flipped for symmetry.

The free fingers and one foot are off the matrix.
The skull (Fig 2) is difficult, but not impossible to reconstruct. The crushed skull elements match those seen in related anurognathids, not the Bennett 2007 monstrosity with giant eyeballs and an abbreviated rostrum that has grown beyond mythology to become widely accepted tradition. No related taxa have giant eyeballs close to the anterior margin.

Figure 3. The North Korean anurognathid pterossaur reconstructed from DGS tracings in figures 1 and 2. Note the dorsal ribs extend laterally, creating a disc-like torso like the skull.

The shorter than wide skull
of this specimen (Fig 3) makes this anurognathid distinct. Relatives (Figs 4, 5) had relatively larger and longer skulls.

The Flathead Anurognathid ” data-image-caption=”

Figure 6. The SMNS anurognathus. On the left as Bennett (2007) reconstructed it identifying the left maxilla has a giant sclerotic ring. On the right is the more accurate reconstruction based on DGS.

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Figure 4. The SMNS anurognathus. This is the first flathead anurognathid described and the one Bennett (2007) reconstructed with a giant sclerotic ring. Now that error is almost universally accepted, except here where DGS identified every bone. Moreover this morphology matches all other flat/disc-head anurognathids described since then. See dfigure 7. Note the torso is also disc-shaped with laterally extended ribs. Note the relatively larger skull here compared to figure 3.

Coming only six years after Jeholopterus,
Gao et al 2009 reported, “Compared to Jeholopterus from China, the immediate differences that can be recognized in the Korean form are: ten rib-bearing trunk vertebrae (vs. 12-13); synsacrum formed by fusion of at least seven sacral vertebrae (vs. by three); scapula and coracoid roughly equal in length (vs. coracoid about half length of the scapula); and greater elongation of the ulna/radius segment to twice the length of the humerus. Although it can be recognized as a member in the family Anurognathidae, the taxonomy of this Korean pterosaur at the generic and species level cannot be determined before a thorough study of the available specimens.”

When the North Korean taxon was added to the large pterosaur tree it nested readily with Causocauda and these two with Verperopterylus (Fig 5).

Figure 5. Click to enlarge and see the rest. Here are members of the Anurognathidae to scale. This is how the wing membrane stretched between the wingtip and elbow in all pterosaurs.

Workers seem to have ignored this North Korean pterosaur,
perhaps because it is curated above the 38th parallel. I first learned about this specimen a few days ago via a David Hone podcast on anurognathids from 6.21.22. However, take Hone’s exposition and ‘facts’ with a grain of salt. He has a pretty dismal track record of portraying invalidated myth as fact. See below for more examples.

Figure 6. YouTube video featuring David Hone talking about anurognathid pterosaurs. Click to play.

According to David Hone in this video:
1. Baby anurognathids had a giant head, adults did not. This is incorrect. All pterosaurs grow isometrically as shown by Pterodaustro, Zhejiangopterus and all embryos.
2. Baby anurognathids had giant eyes, adults did not. Incorrect. This myth is based on the mistakes of Bennett 2007 who confused a maxilla with a sclerotic ring. See figure 7.
3. We have very few adult anurognathids. Most are juveniles. Incorrect. See #1 above and figure 5 above.
4. Pedal digit 5 was incorporated into the uropatagium.Incorrect (see figure 4). We have pterosaur tracks with this long fifth digit impressing the matrix. This traditional error is based on the mistakes of Unwin and Bakhurina 1994 who studied Sordes.
5. Wings were deep and broad. No membranes extend beyond the knee as mistakenly shown above. This is also due to mistakes made in Unwin and Bakhurina 1994. Instead all pterosaur membranes were stretched between the wing tip and elbow. This facilitated folding and tucking the wing finger inside the elbow. AND matches all fossils, contra Elgin, Hone and Frey 2011.
6. Anurognathids were basal pterosaurs, we just haven’t found them yet in the Triassic. Incorrect, but Triassic precursors, like Preondactylus, are known. Hone has been historically loathe to add fenestrasaur outgroups to pterosaur analyses especially when creating supertrees, He is known to delete taxa that don’t agree with his or his mentor, professor Mike Benton’s, preconceptions. Anurognathids are derived from dimorphodontids in the LPT.
7. We don’t really know where they sit in the pterosaur tree. Yes we do. Click here to see where they sit in the LPT. Hone and Benton 2009 deleted pterosaur ancestors recovered after three analyses by Peters 2000.
8. Some anurognathids had thumbs. None did. The three free fingers often and typically rotate axially because the deep axis of the claws are pushed down to the bedding plane during crushing. Ironically, finger 3 did have a more flexible ball and socket joint enabling posterior orientation while making manus prints. This is rather common.
9. Hone is into ‘believing‘ or ‘not believing.’ This is unscientific thinking. He should be testing for facts. There should be no belief in science, nor trust, nor friendship, nor alliance, nor bias.
10. Anurognathids lived in tree hollows. None have ever been associated with fossil timber.
11. Here is how Dr. Hone described the skull of the anurognathid Cascocauda (Yang, Benton, Hone, Xu, McNamara and Jiang 2022, Fig 7): The skull is just smooshed. Its just bone bits. Its really quite wide and it’s not very long. It’s got quite a big head, and yeah, I’m running out of bones after that.

Figure 2a. Cascocauda (CAGS A070) skull in detail, updated 3.3.2022. ” data-image-caption=”

Figure 2a. Cascocauda (CAGS A070) skull in detail, updated 3.3.2022.

” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”” alt=”Figure 2a. Cascocauda (CAGS A070) skull in detail, updated 3.3.2022.” class=”wp-image-65425″ />

Figure 7. Cascocauda (CAGS A070) skull. Above: as understood by co-author David Hone. Middle: DGS colors applied to a published photo of the specimen. Below: Reconstruction based on the DGS tracings.

In the video
Hone described the North Korean specimen (Figs 1–3) as “famously inaccessible”, then described the ‘bad photo of a ‘bad’ specimen, ‘scanned badly from the original print’, and the ‘damn skeleton is complete’.

Thanks, Dr. Hone, for both alerting me to this taxon while dismissing it. I love such challenges. After a few hours of work I found it is not all that ‘bad’. This specimen comes after a long line of related taxa that all have a similar morphology. I’m trying to help fellow workers by publishing these tracings and reconstructions to confirm, refute or modify… or in your case, to help you get over your refusal to trace the specimen with precision. This is the anurognathid Bauplan.

Unprofessional labeling (e.g. ‘bad’) and name-calling is never appropriate in science. Others may confuse your dismissive words and actions with elitism and/or a lack of self-confidence in taking on the most important and challenging opportunities of your chosen profession. Your students pay their tuition to learn from, and be inspired by your leadership.

Dr. Hone, you need no longer confess to ‘running out of bones after that,’ or describing the skull as ‘smooshed.’ Next time, don’t give up… give it a go! Try tracing the specimen using the DGS method of coloring bones. It’s easy. More and more of our colleagues are doing this now. It only takes time and patience. Use these figures as a guide. Let me know of any errors.

I know you don’t like to be challenged or corrected. However, it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s all part of the scientific process.

Then add taxa. Use the LPT as a guide.

It would be better for you to learn something that you can teach (which is how you make your living), than to give up and walk away just because something appears to be too difficult or corrections come from someone you don’t like. If I can figure this out, you can, too. You have been granted a PhD. That means you have the training and wherewithal.

Now try your hand at some precision work (don’t pass this off to a grad student) so you can turn around your (so far) dismal track record. You are more than a decade in, but you’re still a young man. It’s not too late for you. Discard your preconceptions. Start from scratch if you have to. Understand the data as is.

Bennett SC 2007. A second specimen of the pterosaur Anurognathus ammoni. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 81(4):376-398.
Elgin RA, Hone DWE and Frey E 2011. The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (1), 2011: 99-111. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0145
Gao K-Q 2009. Early Cretaceous birds and pterosaurs from the Snuiju Series, and geographic extension of the Jehol Biota into the Korean Peninsula. J. Paleont. Soc. Korea 25(1:57-61.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Unwin DM and Bakhurina NN 1994. Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature 371: 62-64.


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