Tag Archives: wings

Assembling Tapejara wellnhoferi

This weekend I traveled to Uberaba, MG, Brazil, where I installed this replica of a Tapejara wellnhoferi. I traveled with more than 190 individual unassembled bones. Arriving there I had three days and a half to put them together and assemble a Tapejara wellnhoferi pterosaur in a flying position. All the 196 bones are in this 16×23 cm box.

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The skeleton was installed in a museum which is part of a cultural and scientific complex in the town of Peirópolis. It will be displayed in one of the museums in the complex.

Peirópolis is a small town located 20 km away from the city of Uberaba (pop. 300 000) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The whole area is situated over a geological formation from the late Cretaceous and contains several paleontological sites where hundreds of fossils, mostly reptiles, were found.  The Peiropolis Dinosaur Museum (Museu de Dinosauros) is part of a scientific and cultural complex (Complexo Cultural e Científico de Peirópolis – CCCP) which also includes a research center (Centro de Pesquisas Paleontológicas Llewellyn Ivor Price) and another smaller museum installed in an old train station. The complex is administered by the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro (UFTM).

The smaller museum contains only species which were found locally; another contains replicas and fossils from other parts of the country. This Tapejara is the first pterosaur that will be on display in the complex.

Besides installing the Tapejara, I also gave a small workshop showing how I researched, planned and created the individual bones from sheets of foam, demonstrating the techniques and materials used. In the end, I recycled a small tray by cutting two pieces to make a Tapejara humerus.

Assembly took me 3 and 1/2 days. It took long because I used silicone rubber to attach the bones together and its only completely dry in 24 hours (before that it gets gradually stronger, but it may tear easily.) I also used part of the first day to photograph each of the bones and weigh them. The whole collection weighs only 300 grams!

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But before turning those bones into a Tapejara, I decided to turn them into a fossil first. This is a representation of the limestone slab which contains one of the most complete specimens: SMNK PAL 1137 (see “Eck et al, 2011, On the osteology of Tapejara wellnhoferi …”). The actual slab contains bones from three individuals, but I only have one so there are some bones missing. Anyway, here is SMNK PAL 1137 assembled with replicas of bones from one Tapejara:


I started with the head (I used some of these pictures to illustrate the previous post). The neurocranium is attached dorsally to the upper crest (with silicone rubber “cartilage”, but shown below with pins) and at the anterior part of the orbits through the lacrimal bone (shown detached in the next two pictures, and attached with silicone rubber and two pins in the third).

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The spine has a long rubber tube acting as a medulla. Here is the Tapejara with an assembled skull and spine (cervicals, dorsals, sacrum and tail). The quadrate bones, that articulate with the jaw, are shown below beside the skull and were not attached yet.

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The next step is the assembly of the pelvis. Each bone was attached with silicone rubber, keeping it firmly in place while allowing some elasticity between the bones. Silicone rubber acts like cartilage. Below are some photos of the complete pelvis showing the sacrum, gastralia, pre-pubis, pubis, ischium and ilium (preacetabular and postsacetabular processes).

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I was hosted by friends in Uberaba, and hanged the skeleton every night in my bedroom window. This is my window after the first day.

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On Saturday I returned to the museum and assembled the feet, legs, part of the wings and part of the pectoral girdle. Here’s a pair of Tapejara feet. The bones are firmly attached but they retain some flexibility. You can pass your fingers between Tapejara’s toes.

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My table of bones.

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Here are some views of the skull after I attached the mandible. The pins are holding it closed because I only added silicone rubber to the joints. When the silicone dries, the weight of the lower jaw should keep the mouth slightly open.

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It’s easier to work on the ribs by hanging the skeleton. I attached practically all the ribs and the sternum (through four pairs of sternal ribs).

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And this is my window after day 2.

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On day 3 I occupied the kitchen at my friends’ place, and finally finished the pectoral girdle, connecting the vertebral ribs to the sternal ribs, and to the sternum and gastralia.

I didn’t use cartilagenous connections from the posterior vertebral ribs to the gastralia, nor did I leave them floating in the air. I used thin sternal ribs as placeholders since I had some spare ones. My intention was to remove them later, when the abdomen had dried and was strong enough, and replace them with pure cartilage to connect to the gastralia, but I forgot to do so. It’s not completely inaccurate the way it is (no fossil evidence against it – but perhaps the “floating ribs” should be smaller). Anyway, I can consider fixing that when I return to Uberaba and have an opportunity to review the replica.

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Here is a view from the front showing the scapulocoracoid.

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The limbs are almost done. This photo was taken just before connecting the carpals and fingers.

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Oh, and this is Samuel – a Felis catus. He is always with me in the kitchen observing the Tapejara wellnhoferi. It probably looks like a big tasty bird for him.

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Here is the finished Tapejara body. As you can see I used “sternal” ribs to connect gastralia (the last three ribs) to the vertebral ribs.

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There is not enough space on this table for a pterosaur.

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Almost done. Now some fingers.

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A pterosaur hand. That long fourth dactylus is the pterus 🙂

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And this is the end of day 3. All the small parts assembled into larger ones. I arrived in town with 196 parts, now I have six parts hanging in my window. I couldn’t assemble it all because it woundn’t  fit in the car.

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Monday morning. Tapejara for breakfast.

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This is my host Regis. He is a musician and plays the guitar in a heavy metal band. This time, instead of a guitar, he holds a Tapejara. And the cat on the couch is one of the daughters of Samuel the cat.

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Samuel was watching the skeleton on the kitchen table a while ago.

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Finally assembling the Tapejara at the Peiropolis Dinosaur Museum. It will stay in this room (which contains several skeletons that are not yet on display) until it is installed. Here I hanged the body, head, a leg and a wing.

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And this is the final result.

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Hmmm… It might need some chiropractic therapy for that scoliosis.

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Looks good, but the posture is still not right.

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That’s not a good posture for the neck!

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It should be facing down slightly. Like this.

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Now it’s much better.

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And that’s it! Now there is a Tapejara in the Peiropolis Museum. It will still receive a coating of matte varnish, and then it will be displayed in the main hall of the museum, near the big dinosaurs. If you ever go to Uberaba, check it out!

As in any project like this, there are some adjustments that can still be made, improvements in posture and eventual fixes that might have to be done in the future. If I have the opportunity to do so, I will review the replica next time I am in Uberaba. Some improvements that may be done very easily include 1) straightening the gastralia axis (it’s making a curved line), 2) reducing slightly the curvature of the back (it should be curved, but perhaps it was too much – that might be causing the curvature in the gastralia axis), and 3) removing sternal ribs connected to gastralia (or maybe simply trimming them).

This was the Imaginary Pterosaur #7: Tapejara wellnhoferi, the first one I made for a museum. It was commissioned work and I started it two months ago, working on it about half of that time, traveling with it and working on it in different cities. Although I made all the bones by myself, I had help from many people. First of all I would like to thank the paleoartist Rodolfo Nogueira for introducing me to the director of the Peirópolis Cultural and Scientific Complex, Vicente Antunes, who had told him that he wished to have a pterosaur on display in the museum; the staff at the museum and UFTM, specially the researchers Thiago Marinho and Agustin Martinelli, who first contacted me and led the process that allowed me the opportunity to create this replica for the museum. Several other researchers helped me with photographic sources, articles and paleontological information: Hebert Bruno Campos, Felipe Pinheiro, and specially Brian Andres who gave me access to many photographs and measurements that were critical to the accuracy of this replica. Finally I must thank the family who hosted me in Uberaba: Alípio, Regis, Ludmila and Lucia (and their many cats) for their fantastic hospitality, for dedicating time and effort to make my stay as comfortable as possible, for driving me to Peiropolis and back (40km!) and even letting me occupy their kitchen table during three days, turning it into a pterosaur assembly lab! 

Now I will stop making pterosaurs for about a month and a half because I will travel to Europe (Spain, Portugal, England and Russia). When I return, I will probably start Imaginary Pterosaur #8.

I will publish one more post on Tapejara with statistics (weight, dimensions) and links to pictures of all the parts.

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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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Tupuxuara’s wing: the humerus, radius and ulna (final)

It took a couple of days to finish these bones since I had to carve many details and because the foam glue, when applied over a large surface, takes very long to dry (it’s risky to carve while it’s not completely dry). Now we only need the carpals to be able to assemble the wings.

DCF 1.0

I have no source photos of the bone ends, and it wasn’t very easy to discover their shape by just looking at the other photos. The humerus has a very complex end. I made some sketches, looked at pictures of humeri of other pterosaur species, and experimented a bit before attaching the ends. It was easy to close the shaft and the distal end of the humerus.



But it was challenging to sculpt the proximal end. After some trial and error, I had something like this to start working.


But then I still removed and added foam until I finally had a shape that matched the side views. After I finished one bone I used it as a reference, so the second humerus I made much faster.


Here are some pictures of the result showing four sides of the humerus. The pencil is 16 cm long. Both are approximately the same side. The angle the photo was taken may make one seem larger than the other in some views.





This is the distal end (the end that connects to the radio-ulna pair). It’s speculative (I invented it using the side views as a source).


And this is the proximal end, which connects to the shoulder (scapulacoracoid). It is also speculative. I might make adjustments later when connecting the bones.


Now the radio-ulna pair. I wasn’t able to trim the radio bone’s shaft to its correct width. The technique I used (see last post) was not a good one. So I tore the shafts apart, preserved the bone ends, and made new shafts by rolling thin (2 mm) foam. Here they are attached to the bone ends.


And now some photos of the final results. The bones are not yet connected. I just pinned them together for the photos.





These are the sides that fit together.


The proximal and distal views are speculative since I don’t have any photos of them. They were derived from the side views. This is the proximal end (which connects to the humerus).


And this is the distal end. (I’m not 100% sure that I am right. It may be the other way around. I’ll have to check that before assembly.)


Now we can assemble the wings. I still can’t connect the bones because the carpals (between the wing metacarpal and the radio-ulna pair) are still missing.


Here is a picture of Tupuxuara so far. I’m now working on the carpals, pelvis and leg bones.


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A hand bone

Tupuxuara has four metacarpals. One for each finger. The fourth finger, of course, has a larger one. This post is about metacarpal #4.

DCF 1.0

We only have four views of each one. Very good pictures, but no distal and proximal views of the bone ends. So I have to guess what they look like from the pictures.

The bone shafts are somewhat cone shaped, a bit flat on one side, narrow and rounded near one end (distal) and triangular at the other end (proximal). I started with a sheet of 5 mm foam for each one.

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Folded and twisted until I could roll it into shape.

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Rolled it. Held everything in place with rubber bands. Then I made the bone ends with thicker (3 cm) XPS foam. I made the shaft slightly longer so I could insert it into the wheel-shaped distal end.

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When they were dry, I did some trimming, shaping and texturing with a knife and a lighter.

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And this is the result. Four views. The pencil is 16 cm long.

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This is the distal end (the end that connects to the first phalanx of the fourth finger).

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And this is the proximal end which connects to the distal carpal (wrist).

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That’s only one metacarpal. I need three more for the small fingers. They run parallel to the big one and are connected through cartilage and muscles. But I will finish the humeri and radio-ulna pairs before making them.

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Tupuxuara’s very long fourth fingers

Tupuxuara belongs to the sub-order Pterodactyloidea, therefore you can call it a pterodactyl, which means wing (ptero) finger (dactylus). In this post I will describe the making of the four phalanges of Tupuxuara’s very long fourth finger.

Click to enlarge

The arm bones and fourth metacarpal are thick and have a quasi-cylindrical shaft, but the wing phalanges are very thin, have a flattened shaft and seem very fragile.

I experimented making a hollow shaft for the first phalanx with 2mm foam, but I felt it would be too fragile. I could fill it with scraps of melted foam which would give it strength (like in real bones) but I didn’t find a practical way to get the foam uniformly all the way through. So I abandoned the hollow bone technique for these four bones and decided to make them with strips of 5mm foam.

But the strips wouldn’t be enough. The solid bone is even more fragile. So I decided to reinforce them with plastic. I even considered making the small ones completely out of plastic (like I did Anhanguera’s teeth), but it’s easier to shape and fix mistakes on foam than on solid hard plastic. Starting with the fourth phalanx, I stretched a piece of round plastic hanger over a candle to reduce its diameter, and used it as a bone skeleton.


You can see how I do this on the posts on pterosaur teeth.

I used two parts 2mm thinner in diameter than the actual bone which you can see in the picture below. This bone is also a bit flat but I wasn’t able to make the plastic structure flat. It had to be compensated with the foam cover.


I cut a strip of 5mm foam, made a slit inside it like this.


I tested fitting the plastic inside it, stretched the foam a bit, and made another one. These are the two phalanges #4 before assembly.


I glued them together using hot glue, trimmed, sanded, finished with some fire. This is the result.


It is still too thick (specially on the sides). I don’t know if I will be able to make it as flat as it should be. I might have to use a sanding machine since the plastic is very hard. Of course, it’s much heavier than it would be if hollow, but it won’t crack.

In phalanx #2 I added a flat piece of foam (also from a plastic hanger, but a of different kind). I used the candle to shape it according to the curvatures of the bone.


I repeated what I did with phalanx #4. Cut a slit and placed the plastic in the foam.


After pasting, trimming, sanding and burning, here are the two last phalanges of Tupuxuara’s wings.


Now phalanx #2. Same technique. There is more foam this time so I will have some space to shape the bone better (the shafts of phalanges #3 and #4 were practically exposing the plastic).


Here are phalanges #2 after trimming, pressing, sanding and burning.


And the wing so far, after the foam work.


Phalanx #4 is the longest bone of the wing. It’s larger end (proximal) articulates with the wing metacarpal, which I haven’t made yet. This one could be hollow, but it would be too much trouble, so I decided continue using the same technique.

The plastic hanger I used has a structure with “H” shaped sections. I cut them in half lengthwise (making “T” shaped sections). I used that “T” strip as the bone skeleton for phalanx #4. The bone is practically straight (the curves are on the foam edges) so I didn’t have to curve the plastic. I sandwiched the plastic with two 5 mm thick foam strips.


But the bone is not that flat. The proximal end has some bumps and prominences. They rise about 3mm on one side and some 7mm on the other I added an extra layer of 5mm foam on each side to carve them out, then I twisted the ends a bit to shape them according to the pictures.

Here is the final result. Four views of the four phalanges of the wing.

This is the view from behind (considering the position in the wing).


And this is the front view.


Dorsal (top) view.


Ventral (bottom) view.


I might be wrong about which side is ventral or dorsal. I still don’t have all the information I need to assemble the pterosaur. If I am wrong, I will update this. Some bones are still too thick and the ends probably need some adjustments.

This is a view of the proximal end of the first phalanx (the end that connects to the wing metacarpal).


And here are some pictures of the bone ends (proximal ends).


Now I can assemble the wings. I still need to finish the metacarpals, carpals, radio-ulna and humerus to connect this to the body. Here they are compared to a small keyboard (the keyboard is 35 cm long).


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Tupuxuara’s wing: the humerus, radius and ulna, part 1

I started the humerus and the ulna-radio pair for each wing (click to see a larger image).

DCF 1.0

I made them hollow, using different techniques.

I printed the four views of the humerus and used them as guides to cut out four parts.


I should have cut them some 20% thinner along the middle (diaphysis), since it has a cylindrical shape. But I did not, so I couldn’t use all four strips of foam. The humerus has a prominent crest on one side so I chose the two pieces which contained it and attached their edges to the piece cut from the “rear” view. I also cut some round strips of foam to use as a guide when shaping the bone.


I glued the three sides together and let them dry. Then I squished, folded, pressed the foam to shape.


It takes some time to dry, and if you start squishing and cutting, the parts may detach. They did! I used rubber bands to keep everything in place and let it dry and started working on the ulna.


Since the bone ends (epyphisis) have an irregular format, I added a thick piece of foam there so I can carve the details out later. I still didn’t add one of those to the other side, near the crest, since I don’t have yet a clear picture of what it should look like.


While the humeri were drying I came up with another idea for the hollow long bones. Why not just roll them? There are some difficulties. The long cylindrical part of the bone (diaphysis) may change shape. It’s section may be round and wide on one end, and flat and narrow on the other (the wing metacarpal is like that). The bone may also be slightly curved. But gradual changes in section width and shape, and bending can be done very easily while gluing the cylinder. I decided to give it a try.


I cut out the whole bone from one piece of foam. Tried to squish it and curl it, but it cracked in several parts and I had to throw it away. I tried it again. This time I squished the foam well before cutting it out and it worked. I was able to curl it all the way.


You have to do all the folding before cutting the foam. It is still not that easy and if it cracks you have to start again since cracks will make it very hard to shape the bone later. When both sides were attached with glue and kept in place with rubber bands and tape, I rolled it a bit more near the centre (the glue was still not completely dry), making it narrower. I also gave it a slight bend. The result compared well with the photos. I can still improve it later in necessary and add any details, since the foam is 5mm thick and can be carved.


Now I have two humeri and two ulnae drying. Time to make the radii.


The radius is not much smaller than the ulna. It’s much flatter so I decided to not use the cylindrical technique to make it. I made a box like the picture below.


Later I will shape it by carving the edges. I used thick foam for the bone edges so they can be carved into shape later.


I also added the bone ends to the ulnae. So here is the result so far: two humeri, two ulnae and two radii.


I still don’t know how to make the other bones. I will try other techniques and maybe I will come up with an optimal one. It would be great if I could buy foam cylinders in different diameters, or if there was some kind of foam tape :).

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Tupuxuara: planning the wings

Tupuxuara’s wingspan is about 4.5 metres wide. The wing connects to the scapulocoracoid through the humerus, which is the arm bone. Then come the radio-ulna pair (forearm), carpal bones (wrist), metacarpals (hand) and fingers. There is one large finger which is the wing. It’s metacarpal and phalanges are more than two thirds of the length of the wing.

This is a diagram of the right wing showing the sources that I have (Iwaki museum) in brown. The parts that are missing are shown in white. I will have to invent them. Click to see a larger image.

DCF 1.0

Most of my sources are four photographs of each bone, showing four sides. I have no photos of the bones viewed from the tips. I will have to do my best to discover their shape from the pictures I have. I will certainly miss details (concavities, for example) unless I can infer them from shadows.

I will start with the humerus but will make all the bones at the same time (it’s faster that way and I can let the glue dry better before carving and shaping).

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The pterosaur opens its wings!

It didn’t fit in my mother’s house, so I found this place and decided to assemble the pterosaur (the bones are still not carved, and too big). Now it looks scary!

This is another view, with the wings closed on a bed:

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The wing

Good news: I found PVC board foam here (I’m in Campina Grande, Brazil) for sale. Not the same brand I used to buy, but very similar. So I decided to give it a try and already made the 3D sketches of all the wing bones. Tomorrow I will carve them.

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Researching the wing

The wing is actually the fourth finger of the pterosaur (it seems there is some disagreement about that, but most palaeontologists believe the four phalanges of the fourth finger make the wing.) The pteroid, to me, looks like a thumb, but the scientists say it is not. Well, since I have no more foam, I decided to at least draw the plans for the rest of the pterosaur.

This is the first phalanx and the hand.

And these are the last three phalanges.

And this is a much better estimate of the wingspan:

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