I’ve just returned from a 2 week stint in California, where I had a bit of holiday visiting some family, and also attended Flugsaurier 2018, the semi-annual pterosaur conference. Held every 2-3 years, Flugsaurier focuses on the up-and-coming pterosaur research from around the world. It’s a small, specialist conference with 40-70 people typically who work on pterosaurs. I was involved in a minor capacity with the 2015 conference held in Portsmouth, and got sucked in to help organise this meeting in LA.
This year’s meeting was held at the University of Southern California, hosted by Mike Habib. Despite initial concerns about the conference due to delays in getting information out, in the end we had a good few days chatting about pterosaurs with a good number of pterosaur researchers. We missed a couple of main people, some who couldn’t make the conference due to funds, and also some last minute illness-related cancellations, but it was a good turnout nonetheless.
Since most of the research is new and unpublished, I won’t talk about it in too much detail, just a few specific points. If anyone is more interested, you can find the abstract book here. The conference kicked off on the Friday with an informal lunch gathering, before a shortened afternoon featuring talks from Xin Cheng on wukongopterid sexual dimorphism, Tim Richards on new pterosaur material from Australia, Rodrigo Pêgas on bite force in pterosaurs, and Borja Holgado on some pterosaurs from Spain. Also this afternoon was a cool talk by Brooks Britt on a new desert-dwelling pterosaur from the Triassic of Utah, which was recently published, called Cealistiventus hanseni. This was first presented in Portsmouth in 2015, and we’ve been waiting for the proper description ever since. This new animal is really interesting, because early pterosaurs are known from being poorly preserved and crushed, while this is 3D and preserves a significant amount of the skull. It was neat to get a little sneak peak just before publication, and definitely one of the highlights, along with a 3D print that Brooks brought of the skull (which I stupidly forgot to take a picture of).
Saturday was a full day, with a whole variety of talks. The morning saw Richard Buchmann starting us off with a topic close to my heard – pneumaticity in the vertebrae of Brasileodactylus, followed by Michael Sprague on Mesodactylus and Morrison Formation pterosaurs, Tracy Ford on the identity of Utahdactylus, and Nick Longrich discussing the diversity of Kem Kem pterosaurs. We also had some new material from China, with Zhang Xinjun talking about a new Sinopterus specimen with stomach contents, and Dave Hone talking about an interesting and unusual new istiodactylid. After lunch we had an interesting talk from Matt McLain (on behalf of his student Kelly Whiteley) on a pterosaur wing bone that looks like it had not 1 but 2 breaks, at least one of which had healed. We also had another highlight for me, which was a demonstration of a virtual reality display at the University of Valencia. There are 2 parts to the display – the first was an animation that you could see using virtual reality and a virtual reality (VR) headset (which is actually through an app on your phone, which slides into the headset), and the second was using an app that allows you to see a 3D pterosaur on your phone. I didn’t take any pics of the VR, but Charles Frederico has this video on twitter:
I got to test out the VR headset, which was pretty awesome. It starts with just a Tropeognathus skeleton hanging in the museum, then it fleshes the skeleton out, colours it in, and eventually flies around a hypothetical paleo-environment. The 2nd part used the app to recognise the museum logo, much like a QR code, to make a 3D Tropeognathus on your phone. I think these kinds of tools are fantastic for museums, and I hope to see this pterosaur in other museums!
Saturday afternoon we also had a workshop on ethics hosted ably by Taissa Rodrigues, mainly focusing on specimens and collections. We had a great discussion on the different legal issues in different countries relating to collection and working on material, as well as general discussions about things like exclusive right to material, and when is too long to hold on to things. It was a good chance to talk about some aspects of collecting and working on material that potentially others are interested in.
Sunday was another full day of talks, starting out with a mini Hamipterus symposium, with Wang Junxia discussing a new specimen, Chen He showing us new cranial morphology, and Alex Kellner discussing the amazing embryos and eggs, something that was published on earlier this year. We also had Taissa Rodrigues (on behalf of her student Renan Brandão) discuss the validity of Dawndraco (something I disagreed with in this publication), Chris Bennett on the validity of Bennettazhia oregonensis, and our host Mike Habib talked about a new project he’s started on some exceptional preservation in Aurorazhdarcho and its webbed feet. We also had a pterosaur mass estimation double-whammy with Don Henderson discussing new mass estimates in the giant Quetzalcoatlus northropi, and I discussed my thesis chapter on pterosaur mass using a specimen of Coloborhynchus as a case study for a detailed 3D reconstruction.
The afternoon featured a talk I think most of us have been waiting for and some welcome news – Brian Andres discussed the diversity of azhdarchids from Big Bend in Texas, including the giant material of Q. northropi. Happily, that material has finally been described, and a large monograph has been accepted (I believe) and will hopefully be published in not too long, followed at some point by the biomechanical interpretations. I think that those are coming in 2 different monographs or publications, but I could be wrong. Brian’s talk segued into our second round-table/workshop discussion on azhdarchoids, where we discussed different specimens, aspects of morphology and functional ecology. Sunday finished up with a pterosaur-themed party, hosted by Mike Habib and his wife.
The lovely folks at the LA Natural History Museum hosted us on Monday, where we got to wander the galleries followed by a guided tour through the dinosaur hall with Luis Chiappe, the Director of the Dinosaur Institute. They also put out their pterosaur material for us to view, including some Pteranodon material (with some awesome 3D vertebrae!) and a cast of the Q. northropi wing, which resulted in a large number of photos like this:
All in all, a good conference was had. And the next conference has been decided – 2021 in Juazeiro de Norte, Brazil, right on the edge of the Araripe Basin, an amazing site for a pterosaur conference. Who knows what I’ll be doing then… but if I’m able to, it would be amazing. Though I won’t be organising it this time…