Described by the famous American paleontologist O.C. Marsh in 1871, Pteranodon is certainly the most famous of the pterosaurs. The crest on the nape makes it immediately recognizable, and – as well as in popular texts – it is a constant presence in any work having to do with prehistory. It often appears in the role of the flying monster clawing at the unfortunate victim to take it to its nest and is not infrequently reconstructed as a mix of other pterosaurs, featuring the pronounced teeth and diamond-shaped tail of its distant Jurassic relative Rhamphorhynchus. The popularity of Pteranodon has guaranteed it a reproduction by the vast majority of Brands; however, such an abundance of models is not accompanied by an equivalent scientific rigor, and often the reconstructed animal – even if recognizable as Pteranodon due to its unmistakable characteristics – otherwise remembers it only vaguely … A real pity, given that we have a lot of data on this genus, coming from hundreds of specimens. In 2021 Collecta proposed this impressive model in its Deluxe line. Let’s go see how he fared.
“Wow!” it is certainly the first thought that crosses your mind when you are in front of the Pteranodon Collecta: with a height of 20 cm, it will probably tower over several collections, also because there are not many pterosaurs in this scale. I too, I admit, from the first photos I thought I had the definitive Pteranodon model in front of me.
From the tip of the beak to that of the nuchal crest, the skull measures an impressive 28 centimeters, making the model scale 1: 6.5 when scaled to the size of USNM 50130, the largest known specimen of Pteranodon. Other specimens would result in a larger scale. Those unfamiliar with the anatomy of these animals will probably be amazed at how disproportionate the head appears to the body (several times its length, even without including the nuchal crest), but yes, the proportions are correct. Yes, pterosaurs were strange beasts.
The taxonomy of Pteranodon is not simple, but for the purposes of this review we will follow Witton, that is the simplest hypothesis: that there are only two species, P. longiceps and P. sternbergi (classified by some in a genus in itself, Geosternbergia). The shape of the crest undoubtedly identifies the Collecta model as P. longiceps (P. sternbergi had it in the shape of a lozenge) and, in addition, we can affirm that the reconstruction represents a male: Pteranodon is in fact one of the few Mesozoic animals in which it was possible to determine the sex. The genus presented a marked sexual dimorphism, with the males having a much more voluminous crest and a narrower pelvis. The reverse is true for females. Many words have been spent on the purpose of the Pteranodon crest without any agreement having been reached up to now; however, its fundamental uselessness in aerodynamic terms and the fact that it was considerably more pronounced in males would be able to assume a display function.
The skull of the Collecta model is hairless, but has considerable roughness, as if to suggest a keratinous covering. Certainly effective, but adding the keratin it is unlikely that these grooves would have been visible externally; Pteranodon’s beak and crest were probably smooth, as in present-day seabirds. Undoubtedly, however, this rough texture helps to characterize the model, as well as some small indentations in the crest that suggest some kind of damage: we often forget that these animals were living creatures, and that living creatures are rarely free from defects. . The nostril is in the correct position, rather close to the eye. The jaw, as in many animals of the Collecta Deluxe series, is articulated: it can open up to a maximum of about 30 °, so not very much, but it does its worthy job. A feature of Pteranodon, faithfully reported, is the fact that the mandible is visibly shorter than the maxilla. The beak, contrary to what Jurassic Park shows us, curves upwards. There is a goiter of red skin under the throat. We have no integument correlates for Pteranodon, but – given the abundance of similar structures in birds occupying pterosaur-like niches today – its presence is a pleasant guess. Pteranodon is believed to be a diver, a bit like modern boobies, so having some pelican characteristics is not out of place (Bennet, 1994). The neck is sturdy, as it should be: pterosaurs are often represented with thin, birdlike necks, but the anchoring sites of the muscles instead suggest that they had substantial mass.
From the orbital area to the tip of the tail, the Pteranodon Collecta is covered by a thick down. The presence of such integument in pterosaurs is accepted by Sordes’ discovery and so far – except for some fossils on whose interpretation not everyone agrees – no flying reptile fossil has presented a scaly integument, as they were commonly represented in the last century. The picnofibres – this is the exact name – are finely sculpted and highlighted by a white wash that penetrates between one strand and the other: perhaps it represents the crystallized salt left on the duvet once the Pteranodon has dived into the sea? Truly remarkable detail and one of the details that attracted me to this model is the presence of a tuft at the end of the tail. It may appear to many a novelty or a baseless speculation, but we know instead that the vertebrae of the tail have rod-like endings, of unknown function: however, being the tail of Pteranodon unusually long for a pterodactyloid, it is possible that had some function (Display? rudder?), so the feathery tuft is not to be excluded.
We now come to one of the critical points of this model: the wings. Let’s start with the positives: the length is appropriate: Pteranodon, an ocean flyer, had huge wings, about the same proportions as an albatross and, although it probably exploited currents exactly like an albatross, it was capable of generating active thrust – on the contrary. than was believed in the last century. Another positive aspect is that both the propagation (the membrane between the wrist and the shoulder) and the brachipathy (the membrane between the hind limbs, which attaches to the ankle) are present; furthermore, the uropathy is vestigial and leaves the tail free. Unfortunately, the skeletal legs stand out too much compared to the wing membrane, recalling the reconstructions of the last century. In recent years it has emerged that pterosaur wings were complex organs – much more complex than bat wings – made up of three distinct layers: a network of blood vessels, a muscle and connective layer, and finally actinofibrils, an invention of the pterosaurs. which radiated outward from the bone, making the membrane flexible at the arm but stiffer in the distal area. The air sacs also partially extended in the wing, constituting an extension of the animal’s respiratory system. With these details in mind, the gap between the limb and the membrane should be much more nuanced; the Collecta is rather reminiscent of the wings of a bat, and highlighting the arm and fourth finger in bright yellow doesn’t help. In addition, taking into account how the hand, with its musculature and the air sacs, constituted a substantial part of the wing and not just a support on which to stretch a membrane of skin, it would not have failed to cover the surface of the same pycnofibres that cover the body, as seen in many recent reconstructions.
In addition to the fourth finger that supports the wing, Pteranodon has three fingers in the hand (which had lost contact with the carpus) and four in the foot. Unfortunately, they are not the best part of the model: fortunately this is not a prominent detail, so it is quite easy to hide them, but on a not too careful examination one notices a certain roughness in the sculpture that contrasts with the fine details present, for example, on the head. The legs could belong to any dinosaur that came out of a plastic bag, which is a real shame, because in the past Collecta has shown itself capable of fine sculpting. Looking at them, I can’t help but think of a digital model that has been enlarged without taking into account the loss of detail that would have been achieved.
Ultimately, the Pteranodon Collecta is definitely a must buy for those who want an accurate Pteranodon in scale with Beasts of the Mesozoic or human characters (1: 6 is a popular scale for action figures, eg Hot Toys). Shoppers who don’t want a Pteranodon out of Jurassic Park and are willing not to nitpick too much might also be interested, especially for the look it would make on their shelves. Of course, I can’t help but think it’s a great pity, it wouldn’t have taken much to make it one of the definitive models of this pterosaur.
Bennett S.C. (1994) The Pterosaurs of the Niobrara Chalk. The Earth Scientist. 11 (1): 22–25
Witton M. (2013) Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton University Press. 336 pp
In più si ringrazia Joschua Knüppe per la preziosa consulenza in materia di cheratina.