Named By: David M. Martill & Steve Etches - 2011.
Classification: Chordata, Reptilia, Pterosauria, Breviquartossa, Monofenestrata.
Species: C. scarfi (type).
Diet: Uncertain but possibly a piscivore by the shape of the skull.
Size: Uncertain due to lack of fossil material, but skull is 326 millimetres long, 55 millimetres high.
Known locations: England, Dorset - Kimmeridge Clay Formation.
Time period: Kimmeridgian of the Jurassic.
Fossil representation: Partial skull.
partially preserved skull of Cuspicephalus was first recovered in
2009 by Steve Etches, and is preserved on a slab of stone.
Although incomplete the feature that stands out most at first glance
is the enlarged nasoantorbital fenestra (the opening that would be in
front of the eye socket) that is greater than half the total length
of the skull. There is also the presence of the base of a head crest
that would have risen upwards from the skull that according to the
describers may have grown quite high. This is quite a reasonable
supposition as pterosaurs that have large skull crests often have large
fenestra as well in order to save on total skull weight. The nature
of the crest material present also suggests that it was actually the
base growth of the crest. Pterosaur crests are not thought to have
always been solid bone throughout, with some being of softer body
tissue that is weaker and does not preserve as well, but still has a
more solid base. Softer material would actually be more able to
change colour such as becoming more enriched during the breeding
season, while becoming duller in other times of the year and
individuals that were out of condition.
Like with so many other pterosaurs the skull of Cuspicephalus has a rectangular cross section, something that would have increased strength while still remaining light weight. The dimensions of Cuspicephalus’s skull give it a rostral index of 5.4, the largest of any other known pterosaur. Around a dozen teeth are present in the skull although the total amount for the living animal may be double this. The teeth are also largest at the front of the mouth and in other piscivorous pterosaurs this is seen as an adaptation to increase the chance of prey capture as the beak is dipped into the water to snatch a fish. It is also seen in some ctenochasmid pterosaurs however that strain invertebrates out of the water. While the lower jaw of Cuspicephalus is still unknown, the dentition here would have likely mirrored the upper jaw so that the teeth intermeshed together to create a better prey trap.
Determining the phylogenetic placement of Cuspicephalus is difficult, not just because of the incomplete preservation of the remains but because they lack clearly identifiable group characterisitcs. While some have proposed a similarity to pterodactyloids like Germanodactylus, most palaeontologists recognise that it is more similar to wukongipteroid pterosaurs like Darwinopterus. Still the fossil material is not complete enough to confirm its identity either way which is why it retains a position within the Monofenestrata, an unranked group that is used as a junction point that leads into both the Pterodactyloidea and Wukongopteridae.
Binomal animal names are usually based upon a defining physical characteristic and in this case both genus and species name reflect this. Cuspicephalus roughly translates as ‘pointed snout’ while the species name honours cartoonist Gerald Scarfe whose artistic style sees people drawn with pointed noses, something that could be interpreted as similar to the beak of a pterosaur.