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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Daisy's dragon: the full painting

Sadly, I've been too busy this week to synchronise posting of the image above with the wave of publicity now surrounding Vectidraco daisymorrisae, the new diminutive Isle of Wight azhdarchoid recently described by Darren Naish and colleagues (2013). The story of the Vectidraco discovery by little Daisy Morris is becoming well known thanks to a storm of media interest, so I won't repeat the details here. Instead, I'm showcasing the press release image I drew up for the Vectidraco launch, shown here in its full, uncropped form rather than the smaller version currently doing the rounds in news outlets (below). I should stress, of course, that the animal is only known from a sacrum, so much of what you see here is extrapolated from other azhdarchoids. Because we cannot tell what sort of azhdarchoid Vectidraco is from a pelvis alone, I rendered an animal that attempts to pander to all non-azhdarchid azhdarchoid clades. The obvious influence on its colouration is the European magpie, a deliberate choice to make the animal look convincing to eyes unaccustomed to pterosaurs. Some reconstructions of extinct animals try to play up the more unusual or horrific parts of their anatomy to produce monstrous and grotesque species (sometimes even against overwhelming fossil evidence to the contrary: for shame, Jurassic Park 4 director Colin Trevorrow), but I wanted this one to look like it was a regular animal, one that could even be considered unremarkable if part of our modern fauna. This wasn't an effort to downplay the importance of the discovery of course, but instead an effort to make the reconstruction appear more convincing. I think this is also one of the first pterosaur reconstructions to show iridescent pycnofibres.

The reason for compositing the pterosaur at the top of the full image stems from the use of the painting as a cover image for the upcoming book by Martin Simpson, Daisy and the Isle of Wight Dragon. The book covers the story of Daisy's discovery of the Vectidraco holotype, and is fully illustrated by myself and two other illustrators. I have 9 images in the book, including the following painting of the holotype specimen, NHMUK PV R36621 (below). I'm quite new to painting fossils, rather than fossil animals, but am quite pleased with how this turned out. The book should be available soon from Martin's website and Amazon, and will only set you back £5. Purchasing links will be posted once they are available, perhaps with more of my illustrative contributions. In the meantime, like the Daisy and the Isle of Wight Dragon Facebook page for more immediate updates.

  • Naish, D., Simpson, M. I. & Dyke, G. J. 2013. A new small-bodied azhdarchoid pterosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of England and its implications for pterosaur anatomy, diversity and phylogeny. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58451. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058451


  1. Mike from Ottawa21 March 2013 at 12:43

    A paining of the fossil is kind of unusual. What were the reasons for doing this? I can see the difference from the photos in the PLOS paper, but am not sure what to make of it.

    The reconstruction really nails the mark for being as thoroughly plausible as any animal in today's environment. The black/white really breaks up the shape, so much so I had to do a double-take to assemble it when I first saw it.

    Of course, I'll be looking forward to getting the book, as well, of course as to getting The Book!

  2. Hey Mike,

    Thanks for the comment. The painting of the pelvis solely exists to illustrate the fossil representing Vectidraco, and nothing more. I suppose a photograph of the specimen would look out of place, as I understand that all the other images in it are illustrations.

  3. Mike from Ottawa24 March 2013 at 22:19

    That makes sense. A stark photo would be jarring in a book that otherwise has only illustrations. It has the look/feel of an old photo of a bone in a Victorian museum. The sort of thing that might cue 'Professor Adventurer immediately recognized the strange bone. He knew, despite his dread, that he must return and find the creatures to which it belonged however much the Amazonian jungles featured in his nightmares.'

    Funny, I didn't initially look at it as an illustration in its own right but only as a substitute photo.

  4. I suppose images like that aren't really commonplace nowadays. It was fun to paint, though. Throw in a couple of bits of fruit and a goat skull and we'd have a palaeo-themed still life.

  5. Mike from Ottawa26 March 2013 at 16:54

    That would be pretty cool. A still life looking like any old still life but with couple of paleo items that you might not at first note as out of place. Rather than a goat skull, some small herbivore like a heterodontid.

    The more I look at it and think about it, the more glad I am they had you do that pic.