Category Archives: Pterosaur #5: Tupuxuara

Tupuxuara leonardii, a Brazilian pterosaur

Presentation at the Dinosaur Symposium

The 1st Brazilian Dinosaur Symposium did more than just provide an exhibition space for paleoartists. They also invited us to speak about experiences, techniques, to show and discuss our work in sessions that filled the main auditorium. These are the slides from my presentation about this project (focusing on the Tupuxuara skeleton which was assembled during the symposium).


If you don’t have a Scribd account (or if you never uploaded anything there) you might not be able to download it (only browse online) unless you pay. But you can also downnload it from here (PDF with 180 MB).

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Making of a Tupuxuara

These are all the posts about building the Tupuxuara reconstruction.

  1. March 7 Starting pterosaur #5: Tupuxuara leonardii
  2. March 8 Tupuxuara: adding a palate
  3. March 8 Tupuxuara: the mandible, some trimming and molding
  4. March 9 Tupuxuara: details, details
  5. March 10 Pterosaur #5: Tupuxuara leonardii (finished skull)
  6. March 12 Tupuxuara: fixing the jaw
  7. March 17 A neck for Tupuxuara
  8. March 24 Tupuxuara: two more cervicals
  9. March 25 Tupuxuara: the chest
  10. March 28 Tupuxuara: thoracic vertebrae and the notarium, part I
  11. April 2 Tupuxuara: thoracic vertebrae and the notarium, part 2
  12. April 4 Tupuxuara’s shoulders: the scapulocoracoid
  13. April 4 Tupuxuara: planning the wings
  14. April 6 Tupuxuara’s wing: the humerus, radius and ulna, part 1
  15. April 8 Tupuxuara’s very long fourth fingers
  16. April 9 A hand bone
  17. April 10 Tupuxuara’s wing: the humerus, radius and ulna (final)
  18. April 12 Legs for Tupuxuara
  19. April 14Tupuxuara: the pelvis, sacrum and dorsal vertebrae
  20. April 15 Tupuxuara’s wrist: the carpals and pteroids
  21. April 17 Tupuxuara: the tail
  22. April 17 Pterosaur claws
  23. April 17 Pterosaur feet
  24. April 19 Tupuxuara leonardii: assembly (and disassembly)

Update – New posts about Tupuxuara

  1. May 30. The Making of Imaginary Pterosaurs. PDF presentation at Rio Ptero 2013, International Symposium on Pterosaurs.
  2. May 29. Imaginary Pterosaurs in Rio. About Rio Ptero 2013, International Symposium on Pterosaurs, where Tupuxuara was assembled for the second time.
  3. May 21. First prize for Tupuxuara. My Tupuxuara leonardii replica won first prize in a paleontological art contest (I Concurso de Arte Paleontológica do Colecionadores de Ossos), category sculpture.
  4. April 27. Presentation at the Dinosaur Symposium. PDF presentation at the 1st International Dinosaur Symposium.
  5. April 27. Pterosaurs at the 1st Brazilian Dinosaur Symposium. About the 1st International Dinosaur Symposium in Ituiutaba, MG, Brazil.

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Tupuxuara leonardii: assembly (and disassembly)

Here are some pictures of the finished skeleton.
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It stood complete on my table for less than a day. At night I started disassembling it.


Here is the dismantled pterosaur.

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Everything weighs less than one kilo. I had to make a box big enough to fit the head.

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I found some space to place two other skulls and mandibles in the box. Everything weighs five kilos.

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We are traveling to the First Brazilian Dinosaur Symposium, in Ituitaba, MG, Brazil.

Soon I will write a final post on this pterosaur, listing my sources, references, materials used, and listing all the related posts in chronological order.

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Pterosaur feet

It’s finished! In a previous version of this post I had mentioned that I still needed to make the ankle. I don’t. The tibia in adult pterosaurs is not only a fusion of tibia and fibula, but also of the proximal metatarsi called astragalus and calcaneum (the ankle bones). So I don’t have to make any proximal metatarsi (I took an hour to discover that looking at the tibia ends and diagrams of the metatarsi.)

Some bones are missing, and I might add them later. They are 1) five more sets of ribs (2 thoracical, 3 dorsal), 2) gastralia ribs and the 3) pre-pubis (which connect the pubis to the gastralia via cartilage).

I made de feet based on Tapejara and material from an undescribed Thalassodromid. They have the same proportions as Pteranodon, except that the nails of the Thalassodromid are larger. So I used Pteranodon (drawing by Wellnhofer) as a reference and made larger nails.


Here is how it will be assembled. I can’t yet connect it to the tibia bone because I still didn’t make the heel bones (distal metatarsi).


Oops! That’s the wrong end of the tibia!

Here are the two feet in their natural position. I will attach the bone with silicone rubber, but for now I am just going to test so I will connect them with pins.


Here you see two feet on the table near an Anhanguera skull and below some Tupuxuara claws 🙂

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The proximal tarsi (the ankle) are fused with the tibia (the whole bone is called tibiotarsus) so we don’t have to make them. But we do need to make the distal ones (the heel). I used Tapejara carpals (scaled for Tupuxuara) from an article about ankle structure (Kellner 2004). This is the side that connects to the metatarsals.

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And this is the side that faces down when the pterosaur stands.

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The five metatarsi connect to the two distal tarsi.

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Here are some pictures of the final results (the pins are temporary: I will later connect these bones with silicone rubber). This is the right foot.


This is the left foot.


A view of the ankle and heel bones (left foot).


Looking down from the top of the tibia (left foot).




Walking pterosaur.


More claws.


That’s it. In my next post I will publish several pictures of the Tupuxuara assembled in this position (I will assemble it in another position next week). Then I will unassemble it, weigh the skeleton and pack it. It will travel tomorrow to a paleontological conference in Minas Gerais, Brazil.

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Pterosaur claws

I have several photos of individual finger bones from yet undescribed species which might be Tupuxuara. I also have pictures of the fingers of Tapejara wellnhoferi. But I only have photos of the bones of Tapejara from one angle, in black and white and in low resolution, so I can’t really see if they are flattened out, or curved in some direction. I assume they are straight comparing to the other photos I have (unfortunately I can’t post any of those pictures here, since they are all unpublished research). I compared different drawings of pterosaur hands and they seem quite similar. The number of phalanges is the same in all pterosaurs. Including the nails, the pattern for fingers 1-4 (where 4 is the wing) is 2-3-4-4. The sizes, the widths and the shape (curved, straight, flattened) of the phalanges differ across different species. As to the proportions, I found no great differences between some drawings of Tupuxuara hands (from which I have no sources), Tapejara and Pteranodon. So I used this drawing by Wellnhofer, scaled it to mach the size of my Tupuxuara skeleton, and used it as a guide to carve the fingers.

Here are the fingers and metacarpals after carving.

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These are the finger bones and nails before assembly. I already pinned the metacarpals together.

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I have to turn the metacarpals a bit, but this is how the fingers will be assembled.

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Here are Tupuxuara’s claws after assembly. I am using pins to test, but I will later keep the fingers and metacarpals together using some cartilage (silicone rubber). If I use pins all the time it will weaken the foam.

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Now I placed the metacarpals back on the skeleton with the claws in place.

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Here are some other angles showing the left hand.

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This is the right hand.

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Tupuxuara: the tail

There are not many preserved pterosaur tails. I had initially planned to make Tupuxuara’s tail from Pteranodon until a friend told me to look for the tail of Anhanguera piscator. So again my source is Anhanguera (Kellner & Tomida, 2000). I estimated its size,  printed a guide and made eleven caudal vertebrae.

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These are the finished vertebrae.

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To assemble the tail I used a plastic “spinal chord” (made from a plastic hanger) inserted in the tube that I used as the chord inside the pelvis. For now I just fit the vertebrae there. Later I will also attach them together with silicone rubber discs.

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And here is the tail in place. It probably has more than 11 vertebrae. Pteranodon’s tail has two very long vertebrae at the ent, but since this is not even Tupuxuara’s own tail, I decided to leave it as is.

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Tupuxuara’s wrist: the carpals and pteroids

The carpals are seven little bones which connect the metacarpals, pteroid and radio-ulna pair together. I had no sources for Tupuxuara, and after spending a day trying to make a pair of syncarpals (fused carpals) from Tapejara, I decided to use Anhanguera as a source. So my Tupuxuara’s wrist actually belongs to Anhanguera.

There are five distal carpals, and four of them are fused together so they actually act as two: the distal syncarpal, which articulates the hand metacarpals, and the pre-axial carpal which articulates the pteroid. There are two proximal carpals, also fused, which connect to the radio-ulna pair. I used Anhanguera (Kellner and Tomida 2000) which provides four views of the proximal and distal syncarpals. I made up the medial carpal (roughly based on other pterosaurs and drawings). I adapted the pteroid from Pteranodon and adjusted its size by a low resolution Thalassodromid fossil photograph (it was not good enough to use the photo as an image source, but I could calculate its proportions relative to the radio-ulna.

This was a first test carving just the two syncarpals, but I didn’t use it. I decided to make individual carpals.

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I printed the four views of each syncarpal and coloured each carpal differently to make it easier to identify them on each view.

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Then I carved the individual carpals from 3 cm XPS foam. These are the carpals that form the left and right distal syncarpals.

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This is the distal syncarpal assembled (showing the side that articulates with the proximal syncarpal).

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These are the parts that make the left and right proximal syncarpals.

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And these are the proximal syncarpals assembled.

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Since they are usually fused (in mature pterosaurs), I glued them together with silicone glue (which retains some flexibility). Here is a view of all the syncarpals (showing the sides that connect to each other).

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Now the other side. This is the side that connects to the bones (proximal syncarpal to radio-ulna, and distal syncarpal to the wing metacarpals.

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Anterior view.

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Posterior view.

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This is the distal end of the radio-ulna pair with the carpals connected. The bone that is pinned at the right is the pre-axial carpal. It articulates with the pteroid (via a sesamoid bone) and with the distal syncarpal. The Anhanguera specimen I used as a source didn’t have one so I “invented” one based on some photos of Pteranodon fossils (I used the article “Articulation and Function of the Pteroid Bone of Pterosaurs”, by S. C. Bennett, 2007 as a source).

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Here are some side views.

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Now the pteroid. It has a very thin and fragile tip. To make it stronger I stretched a piece of PVC plastic (from a plastic hanger) to serve as a bone skeleton.

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I used two halves of 5 mm XPS foam, and a plastic bone skeleton.

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Opened a cavity on both sides and sandwiched the plastic skeleton inside.

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After carving, staining, etc. we have a pair of pterosaur pteroid. Here is the full collection partially connected. The pteroid connects to the sesamoid bone, which connects to the pre-axial carpal, which connects to the distal syncarpal, which connects to the wing metacarpal.

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And now our Tupuxuara has a wrist and pteroid.

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We still need fingers (including metacarpals), feet (including ankle bones), tail and pre-pubis. I’m not sure I will have time to include the pre-pubis this week. I might leave it for later when I plan to make some minor fixes and possibly introduce new ribs, gastralia and cartilage (in silicone rubber).

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