Nyctosaurus

Name: Nyctosaurus ‭(‬Night lizard‭)‬.
Phonetic: Nick-toe-sore-us.
Named By: Othniel Charles Marsh‭ ‬-‭ ‬1876.
Synonyms: Nyctodactylus.
Classification: Chordata,‭ ‬Reptilia,‭ ‬Pterosauria,‭ ‬Pterodactyloidea,‭ ‬Nyctosauridae,‭ ‬Nyctosaurinae.
Species: N.‭ ‬gracilis‭ (‬type‭)‬,‭ ‬N.‭ ‬nanus,‭ ‬N.‭ ‬lamegoi,‭ ‬N.‭ ‬bonneri.
Type: Piscivore.
Size: 2‭ ‬meter wingspan,‭ ‬possibly larger.
Known locations: USA,‭ ‬Kansas‭ ‬-‭ ‬Niobrara Formation.
Time period: Campanian of the Cretaceous.
Fossil representation: Many individuals.

       Although many pterosaurs sported elaborate head crests,‭ ‬Nyctosaurus took things to a new extreme.‭ ‬Rising up to over half a meter high,‭ ‬a proportionately massive‭ '‬L‭' ‬shaped crest is known to have been present on Nyctosaurus.‭ ‬This crest was once thought to have been the support for a skin sail,‭ ‬but today it is generally accepted that the crest was more or less as it was preserved,‭ ‬with it sometimes being referred to as a pterosaur‭ '‬deer antler‭' ‬from its appearance.‭ ‬Although it may appear cumbersome,‭ ‬the crest was actually very light,‭ ‬and studies have shown it would have had very little impact upon the flying ability of Nyctosaurus.‭ ‬It is however somewhat harder to say if it actually imparted any positive benefits.
       Study of sub‭ ‬adult specimens has raised the notion that Nyctosaurus reached full size within its first year,‭ ‬and that the crest started growing when the individual in question reached adulthood.‭ ‬The crest may have been growing throughout the entire adult life of Nyctosaurus,‭ ‬with the largest crests belonging to the oldest,‭ ‬and henceforth most successful individuals.‭ ‬This would serve to persuade potential mates that the larger crest was superior to the smaller.
       Another special feature of Nyctosaurus is the complete absence of claws from the first,‭ ‬second and third digits of the hand.‭ ‬This means that Nyctosaurus would have had a hard time clinging onto things while on the ground and has brought the suggestion that Nyctosaurus may have spent most of its time flying in the air.‭ ‬A potential benefit of the lack of claws however is that the wings would have been even more streamlined.‭ ‬Because the fossils of Nyctosaurus are known from the Niobrara Formation,‭ ‬it's a safe assumption that it would have flown over the Western Interior Seaway while looking for fish.
       With the exception of the head crest being completely different,‭ ‬Nyctosaurus often draws comparisons with the well-known pterosaur,‭ ‬Pteranodon.‭ ‬Not only do they have similar body morphology,‭ ‬both Nyctosaurus and Pteranodon have been found in the same fossil formation,‭ ‬and both would have shared the skies of the late Cretaceous at the same time as one another.‭ ‬However Nyctosaurus has a much shorter presence in the fossil record of approximately only half a million years,‭ ‬whereas Pteranodon spanned over seven million years.
       Because of its similar body morphology to Pteranodon,‭ ‬Nyctosaurus may have flown in a similar manner,‭ ‬including using a process known as dynamic soaring.‭ ‬Dynamic soaring is where a flying creature such as an Albatross flies into the trough formed by two waves and into the lee of a passing wave.‭ ‬The lee is the change that results in stronger air pressure that occurs as the wave moves along,‭ ‬and this pressure results in air moving faster over the wings and increasing their lift.‭ ‬The animal in question can then turn around sharply,‭ ‬a process called‭ '‬wheeling‭'‬,‭ ‬and then head back towards the trough with a back wind that further increases speed.
       The number of species attributed to Nyctosaurus has changed since its discovery,‭ ‬and even some of the species listed above may yet prove to be identical to the type species.‭ ‬Only time with further study and hopefully new fossils will be able to establish the exact species with certainty.

Further reading
- Notice of a new sub-order of Pterosauria. - American Journal of Science, 11(3): 507-509. - O. C. Marsh - 1876a.
- Principal characters of American pterodactyls. - American Journal of Science, 12: 479-480. - O. C. Marsh - 1876b.
- Note on American pterodactyls. - American Journal of Science, 21: 342-343. - O. C. Marsh - 1881.
- New crested specimens of the Late Cretaceous pterosaur Nyctosaurus. - Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 77: 61-75. - S. C. Bennett - 2003.
- Posture, Locomotion, and Paleoecology of Pterosaurs. - Geological Society of America - S. Chatterjee & R. J. Templin - 2004.
- Aerodynamic characteristics of the crest with membrane attachment on Cretaceous pterodactyloid Nyctosaurus. - Acta Geologica Sinica, 83(1): 25-32. - L. Xing, J. Wu, Y. Lu & Q. Ji - 2009.



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