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Friday, 8 March 2013

Putting the 'sin' in Junggar BaSIN

See what I did there? Not good? I know. Never mind.

The reaction to a very detailed commission, development of the minimalist theme of my misty azhdarchid painting and an overindulgence in Prodigy tracks has lead to the above, a monochromatic Dsungaripterus weii striding its way through a Cretaceous swamp in what will become China's Junggar Basin. Some readers may note more than a passing resemblance between the style of this and the artwork of Frank Miller's Sin City graphic novels, and I can't deny their obvious influence on this work. In keeping with their noirish aspects, I wanted this painting to be a little edgy and dark, but not overtly violent or gruesome. I figured a skull-like motif was a good place to start, with the chunky dentition of Dsungaripterus continued across the posterior skull region with a fleshy structure meant to recall a Glasgow smile (fascinating Dsungaripterus fact to share this evening at dinner: the teeth are actually fully overgrown by the jaw bones in adult individuals. Check out the posterior teeth in IVPP 64043-3, a Dsungaripterus skull and mandible described by Young [1973], for an example, below. Image from Witton 2013.) The eye region is also deliberately socket-like. If you think the face of this thing is slightly creepy, I've succeeded.

The nastiness continues with the limp body of a baby pterosaur seen dangling from the Dsungaripterus jaw tips. This chap is loosely based on Nemicolopterus, a small pterosaur from China's Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation that is almost certainly a baby Sinopterus (of course, I'm not the first to say this and won't elaborate more here, but do go into more detail on this issue my book). Dsungaripterids are not normally shown with vertebrate prey, as their edentulous jaw tips and large, blunt posterior teeth are generally seen as evidence for a diet largely comprised of shellfish (e.g. Wellnhofer 1991; Unwin 2005; Witton 2013). I don't disagree with this assessment, and further evidence for shell crushing may stem from the rarely-discussed knobbly palatal ridge found in Dsungaripterus, which projects prominently along its palatal midline at the back of the jaw. To my knowledge, similarly robust and prominent ridges are not present in any other pterosaurs, despite considerable variation in palatal structure across the group, and I wonder if they provided an additional crushing surface within the jaws. But, while their powerful jaws and teeth would undoubtedly make short work of clams and snails gleaned from lakes and ponds, I doubt these powerful pterosaurs would turn their noses up at baby pterosaurs and other small tetrapods if they could catch them. And besides, a little bit of infanticide also seems entirely in keeping with the noir overtones of this image.

As a bonus extra for this post, here's an inverted version of the above painting, shifting the setting from a cloudy night to the middle of the day. I was flicking the colours of the painting constantly when working on it, and couldn't really decide which version I liked most. I think the black version just edges it, but it's a close contest.

And as an additional bonus extra, here's a Warhol-inspired portrait run of our murderous friend, just for fun.

That's it for now, then. I'm off to lament not choosing the dsungaripterid Noripterus as the subject for this post, because of the NOIRipterus jokes I could have made in the title. D'oh.


  • Unwin, D. M. 2005. The Pterosaurs from Deep Time. Pi Press, New York, 347 pp.
  • Wellnhofer, P. 1991. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs. Salamander Books Ltd., London. 192 pp.
  • Witton, M. P. 2013. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton University Press. [In press]
  • Young, C. C. 1973. Pterosaurian fauna from Wuerho, Sinkiang. Reports of paleontological expedition to Sinkiang II, Kexue Chubanshe, Nanjing, China, 18-34.


  1. Mike from Ottawa8 March 2013 at 08:07

    The surround of the eye and its extension up and to the back puts me in mind of a gull chick looking up at the moon and thus cuts across the noirish feel.

    I think a faint outline of the upper margin of the skull would improve the image because the crest kind of makes the head look like a gigantic blob or balloon. I know it's not, but that's extraneous, because I'm already familiar with Dsungo.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. I can - just - see your gull chick. I think I'm conditioned to see pterosaurs in all shapes and textures, everywhere. It's probably not healthy, actually.

      I can see what you're saying about a skull outline, but I really doubt there was any visible margins between the skull and the soft-tissue crest. I appreciate the image is very stylised, but I wanted it to at least reflect the anatomy of the animal as far as the style would allow.

  2. Marvellous pieces, you should post more often these almost comicbook-like works and/or warholish drawings

  3. Thanks Elijah, and you may want to head too:

  4. Muahaha! *lightning crashes* Awesome job!! I am very curious of these soft tissue crests depicted in your art pieces. Is there solid evidence for these in Dsungo? I'm suffering from a severe lack of literature regarding these structures!

    1. Hi Bryan,

      While a soft-tissue crest has not been found in Dsungaripterus, the supporting bones (the low, ragged crest along the skull midline, and the small posterior crest) have. Exquisitely preserved pterosaur fossils show that these structures are associated with soft-tissue crest growths in pterosaurs, so we can be confident that Dsungaripterus had such a crest. It's exact shape and size is still mysterious, of course, but the rocks bearing Dsungaripterus do not preserve soft-tissues, so we are unlikely to ever know this for sure.