Friday 25 January 2013

Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy: finally landing June 23rd

Very shortly after New Year, I completed compiling the index for Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy (or 'my book', as it's known around these parts). This means that my work on it is finally over, almost two and a half years after I signed the contract to write it. It's taken so long, I suppose, because my opportunities for dedicated work on it have been few, so most of the images and text were produced in days and hours wrangled from other projects and jobs, but, finally, it's available for preorder at Amazon and other book retailers. You can see the front cover above, featuring everyone's favourite pelagic, antler-crested pterosaur, Nyctosaurus. I'm quite chuffed with the straightforward, minimalist design and title. Too many books on prehistoric animals have to hinge their titles on dinosaurs, so I'm very happy to have avoided something like 'above the heads of dinosaurs' or 'in dinosaur skies' or something equally irrelevant to its content.

For the moment at least, you can order the book for an extremely reasonable £19.46 at but, even at its most expensive, you won't have to pay more than £24.95 ($35.00 for US buyers). For that tiny sum, you'll get a large, snazzy hardback tome featuring over 200 illustrations, 152 colour illustrations of which are in colour, almost 300 pages and something like 110,000 words, referencing over 500 peer-reviewed articles, of pterosaur goodness (further details). Alas, there's still a little waiting to be done before the book reaches your hands. Pterosaurs will finally be published at the end of June, with preorders being delivered on June 23rd of this year. I'm giving serious thought to having some sort of book launch around that time with talks and, possibly, a book signing.

A perfectly cromulent image of Nyctosaurus, cover star. Click to embiggen.
To celebrate reaching this milestone in what felt like my second PhD thesis, I've decided to post the title page image in full, showing Nyctosaurus sailing effortlessly through the air alongside a Cretaceous sunset. It's one of my favourite images from the book, and hopefully befitting one of the most effective soaring animals to have evolved, ever. I've been playing around with Colin Pennycuick's Flight program recently (freely available here), modified as per the paper Mike Habib and I published on pterosaur flight in 2010, and predict Nyctosaurus to have a sink rate (0.478 m/s) and glide ratio (25.8), values comparable or exceeding those of modern wandering albatross (0.624 m/s and 21.2, respectively) and frigatebirds (0.474 m/s and 20.5). The gliding stats for Nyctosaurus are more akin to man-made gliders and sailplanes, which is pretty remarkable: we cannot design a practical manned aircraft more adept at gliding than this animal, let alone a vehicle that can fold up its wings propel itself around on the ground. Yet another reason why pterosaurs rock enormous palaeontological bells.

And finally, my PR agent won't let me go without mentioning that, if you're planning on being an ├╝ber Pterosaurs fanboy, there's a whole bunch of merchandise featuring this image over at my Zazzle store, which you can buy now to wear and drink from when the book arrives. People will probably think this makes you sad or something, but they'll be wrong.

  • Witton, M. P. and Habib, M. B. 2010. On the size and flight diversity of giant pterosaurs, the use of birds as pterosaur analogues and comments on pterosaur flightlessness. PLoS One, 5, e13982.


  1. Hmmm, seems I have some ordering to do. :) Congratulations Mark! Looking forwards to it coming out and pointing to all the new pterosaurs that will be out in the next six months.

  2. Congratulations on achieving your goal, mr. Witton!