Well, here it is, ladies and germs: The first sketch I have accepted as "good" from the last two weeks of trying to knock out a Nyctosaurus for the art show. Previous efforts have been cave paintings by comparison. I will be painting Nyctosaurus on a large canvas for The Archosauria, and it will be accompanied by a rhamphorhynchoid of undetermined identity.
The original specimens of Nyctosaurus, described in 1958, lacked any kind of headcrest. Marsh allied Nyctosaurus with Pteranodon, but more complete skeletons, described and drawn by Williston in 1902, suggested that Nyctosaurus belonged in a family of its own. For one thing, the "naked lizard" is significantly smaller than Pteranodon, having a wingspan of less than ten feet. Additionally, Nyctosaurus has just three wing phalanges instead of the usual four. Stranger still, this Lower Cretaceous pterosaur has lost all of its non-wing digits (I-III). Because Nyctosaurus could not have spent its entire life on the wing, I have restored it with a fleshy pad capping the main joint of the wing finger.
The crestless Nyctosaurus existed until 2003, when two new specimens were discovered with giant reindeer antlers sticking out of their noggins. Marsh and Williston's crestless forms were probably sexually immature, and, like so many pterosaurs, the crest likely had a display function. Other possibilities exist, I suppose. Perhaps Nyctosaurus grew the crest annually, like modern deer do, but the lack of a rugose surface on the skullcap of the original Nyctosaurus material scratches that out. It's also possible that, like Pteranodon, Nyctosaurus was sexually dimorphic, and only one sex had the crest. This intruiging possibility cannot be adequately tested do to the scant remains of this "naked lizard."
Nyctosaurus has also been regaled to a more basal place on the pterodactyloid family tree. In their recent description of Nemicolopterus, Wang et al. (2008) placed Nyctosauridae as the basalmost clade within the Dsungaripteroidea.
Nyctosaurus is among my very favorite pterosaurs, and I'd like to do it proud. If there are any criticisms out there (Head too big? Legs too long? Crest too short?), I'd be happy to hear them!