Last week I gave you this squee squamate to have a go at identifying:
As usual the comments were insightful and bang on target, with a correct identification by Chris, jennifermacaire, sallie reynolds and Allen Hazen. In the comments there was even a link to a very useful paper provided by jennifermacaire and a mention of the value of the tail-tip shape as a way of distinguishing between species of flying gecko.
Unfortunately the end of this specimen’s tail was hidden behind a label, so it wasn’t visible in any photos, but if it was it would show that this is a Common Flying Gecko Ptychozoon kuhli Stejneger, 1902. Distinctive tail-tips aside, the comments also picked up on some very interesting points about gliding replies. As Allen Hazen mentions:
… So gliding with a patagium along the side of the body (not supported by the arms and legs as it is in typical mammalian gliders) has evolved at least FOUR times in reptiles (reptilia sensu very lato): these guys, Draco, Kueneosaurus, and another fossil form I can’t remember the name of. …
Which is both interesting and pertinent to the main reason I picked this object, as it’s one of the specimens I selected for the temporary exhibition Jurassic Skies we just opened at the National Museum of Ireland at our Collins Barracks site, which is about the origins of flight in dinosaurs (i.e. birds).
Gliding lizards don’t have much to do with the origin of birds directly, but the high frequency with which they seem to pop up is a good indicator that there’s a clear benefit to being at least partially air-worthy.
Escaping predators, reaching inaccessible food and exploiting otherwise hard-to-reach habitats can all play a role in tempting animals into the air. The interesting thing that I’ve realised from doing this exhibition is that we’re currently in a bit of a dull patch when it comes to flying critters.
In the Jurassic the pterosaurs dominated the skies, with birds arising and finding a niche despite being newcomers to the aerial scene. By the Cretaceous both birds and pterosaurs were very diverse, with giant Quetzalocoatlus pterosaurs the size of a small plane and toothed and toothless birds living in a variety of habitats.
The K-T boundary mass extinction seems to have wiped out a huge amount of vertebrate diversity in the skies and despite the huge number of bird species alive today, the diversity of forms seems lower than it has in the past.
If you happen to be in Dublin before 24th March 2019 I suggest popping over to the Collins Barracks museum site to take a look at the exhibition. It’s free and it offers a chance to see some of our specimens that have never been on display before, plus a rather lovely new model of Archaeopteryx that we commissioned for the show.