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Creature of the Week #19: Sharovipteryx

  • 02-05-2010 6:00pm
    Registered Users Posts: 30,746 ✭✭✭✭

    Named in honour of Russian tennis star Maria Sharopova... No not really. The name Sharovipteryx, meaning "Sharov's wing", comes from one of the creature's describers. It was originall going to be called Podipteryx (meaning 'foot wing'), but as seems to happen often in palaeontology, this name was already taken by a beetle (something similar happened to our previous creature of the week, Rahonavis). There is only one species of Sharovipteryx known, called S. mirabilis.


    Sharovipteryx was a very odd creature indeed. So strange that no one is entirely certain as to exactly what it was. Living in Kirgyzstan in the mid Triassic some 230 million years ago, it appears to be related to the ancestor of the pterosaurs which went on to rule the skies for the remainder of the Mesozoic (age of the dinosaurs). Most scientists agree that it is not a direct ancestor of the pterosaurs, but a bizarre evolutionary offshoot that eventually became an evolutionary dead end.


    Sharovipteryx's hind legs were much longer than its front limbs, so it would have had to have been bipedal, moving about on two legs. The hind legs also supported a thin membrane, forming a primitive wing like sructure which could have neen used for gliding. Interestingly, the forelimbs also appear to have a membrane which could have been used to aid balance while gliding. This natural structure is remarkably similar to the design of man made delta aircraft like this Eurofighter Typhoon.


    While most gliding animals live in trees and are expert climbers, this does not appear to be the case with Sharovipteryx. It's front limbs were far too stubby to be useful for holding onto things. In fact, the complete body design does not appear to be suited to climbing at all. Some scietists have proposed that Sharovipteryx could run up trees that had the right incline. This behaviour has been observed in juvenilles of some species of modern bird. Other scientists believe Sharovipteryx could use it's strong hindlegs to generate an impressive leap, much like a grasshopper, and glide from there.
    Whatever the case, Sharovipteryx was a very unique creature which has managed to tease us since it's discovery in 1971 right up to this day.



  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 10,079 Mod ✭✭✭✭marco_polo

    Cool, never heard of this guy before. Awesomely wierd.

    Hmm... this one will take some beating :)

    /rummages through palaeontology books frantically