Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Pterosaurs by Mark P. Witton

Pterosaurs cover As a child, I loved dinosaurs. In fact one of the first books I took out of the school library after I learned to read was called “Animals of Yesterday and Today” featuring a brontosaurus on the cover. When I was in my early teens I had a dream that a pterodactyl flew over my neighborhood, I could see it above my house. Unlike most children, I retained my fascination with dinosaurs as an adult and continue to look for books about them. Today’s is one such find.
This oversized hardback is packed with the latest information on the flying dinosaurs, now called pterosaurs which means “flying lizards” in Greek. pterosaur on cliftIf it wasn’t such a cliché, it could be titled “everything you ever wanted to know about…” because it has an amazing amount of detail on all aspects of the subject, including evolution, variations and anatomy inside and out. But don’t let that scare you off, because it is a book that can be dipped into at random, as well as looking for a specific detail.
The first fossil of a pterosaur was found in Germany between 1767 and 1784. They have now been found on all continents, tracing their evolution from small robin sized creatures to giant flying predators with 6 meter wingspans. The image of them has changed considerably, especially in recent decades as CT scans and UV technology has enabled scientists to see more, including preserved soft tissue, which reveals more precise information on wings, crests and colorations. These variations have ranged from narrow and bulbous beaks(similar to crocodilian gharials), to pelican style pouches, crests like cassowaries, and downy feathers on some species. The type of teeth give clues to the myriad diets specializing in carrion, fish, insects or snails. All of this information is supplemented by photos of fossils and scans, wingspan silhouettes and many charts and time lines.
pterosaur fight The splendid illustrations, painted by the author are well done and imaginative, showing the animals walking on the beach or swimming or aerial views of flight. The colorful paintings benefit from the new information of modern science proving that pterosaurs are more versatile than previously thought. The author does a great job of presenting this information in a clear, understandable way, but not without a sense of humor. The acknowledgment at the beginning is the funniest one I’ve ever read and just another reason to praise this well rounded book on prehistoric flying creatures.
Princeton University Press 2013 291 pp. ISBN 978-0-691-15061-1

Jackie has also reviewed other books about dinosaurs, including an excellent biography about Mary Anning in The Fossil Hunter and The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt .

2 comments on “Pterosaurs by Mark P. Witton

  1. Sue Williams
    July 14, 2014

    This was a delightful review, Jackie. I remember a few years back seeing the first Great Blue Heron in the wild. They never were in this area of Pennsylvania but they have been fruitful and multiplied. I thought it was a pteradactl. I tried to follow it and I did to a fishing hole on Coplay Creek Road. He stood on one leg and then a realized he was not a flying dinosaur. I really believed he was.

  2. Jackie
    July 14, 2014

    I agree that great blue herons look prehistoric! They’re probably the closest we are going to get to a pterodactyl.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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