COLLECTIONS & RESEARCH

Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman – Mary Anning, William Buckland and ‘Pterodactylus’’ macronyx

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Mary Anning, William Buckland and ‘Pterodactylus’’ macronyx
  3. The Reverend G. E. Howman and the Noctivagous Dragon
  4. Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman – Discussion
  5. Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman – Notes & References

By 1828, Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) had been collecting fossils from Lyme Regis for at least 17 years. Even earlier, the first memorable “Anning” find was made in 1811 by her brother Joseph, so Mary was very familiar with most of the fossils that occurred there – abundant ammonites, belemnites, fishes and marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The discovery of the first pterosaur must have baffled her, and so it is no surprise that she showed it to William Buckland, presumably in Lyme as this is where he would take his family vacations in his early days at Oxford10.

Buckland (b. 12 March 1784 – d. 14 August 1856) recognised that Mary Anning’s discovery was from a pterodactyle, despite having never before seen one ‘in the flesh’. He had seen hollow, broken bones from the Stonesfield slate which previously been identified as birds, would later prove to be pterosaurian, he only had recourse to lithographs of the pterodactyls from Bavaria. As of 1828, the earliest Buckland could have seen Mary’s specimen, there were but three published figures of pterodactyls. One of these was the original illustration of Collini5 that also appeared in Cuvier6, a second was Cuvier’s8 redrawing of Collini’s figure where the bones were made to appear more three-dimensional (below), and a later representation of the very small Pterodactylus brevirostris (= Ornithocephalus brevirostris) described by Soemmerring23,24. Buckland2 made due reference to Cuvier’s work in his 1834 study, modelling his own description on the anatomy proposed by Cuvier, but made no mention of the work of Soemerring; thus we can presume Buckland did not know of these earlier papers at that time.

Buckland’s4 Bridgewater Treatise showed he had later become aware of Soemmerring’s studies. Buckland2 also figured a fragment of jaw from Lyme that he thought too was from a pterodactyle which resided in the collection of the Philpot sisters of Lyme (above): Mary Anning’s specimen lacked the skull.

Buckland purchased Anning’s specimen himself27, and the British Museum (Natural History) in London then purchased it, presumably from Buckland, in 183511. The small fragment of jaw found by the Philpot sisters was later acquired by Oxford University (it became specimen OUM J 28251). In the 1850s, another specimen of Dimorphodon, this time with a skull was found at Lyme and also purchased by the BM(NH), probably around 1858 – it is specimen number NHMUK R1035, followed by another skull in 1868 and also bought by the Natural History Museum (specimen number NHMUK 41212-13). Sadly, Buckland never got to see the new material, and so these new specimens were described by Richard Owen20. The skulls of the Lyme Regis pterosaurs bore no resemblance to those of the Solnhofen Limestone specimens of Germany, and so Owen erected the new generic name Dimorphodon pertaining to the two distinct sizes of teeth in the jaws, and thus Buckland’s pterosaur became Dimorphodon macronyx. Since the middle 1800s hardly any new specimens of this remarkable animal have been discovered22,29, and it remains the only pterosaur to have been named from the English Lower Lias.

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