“I have seen many wonderful and beautiful pterosaurs from Brazil and around the world, but a specimen like this one, which is almost complete and beautifully defined, including well-preserved soft tissues, is very rare,” he says. Fabiana Rodriguez Costa, a paleontologist at the Universidade Federal do ABC (UFABC) in São Paulo and co-author of the new A study published yesterday in the journal PLUS ONE Back. “It’s like winning a lottery ticket.”
The species was first described in 2003 by German and British scientists, based on two skulls found. But it is the first time that paleontologists have been able to study other parts of this creature, including some soft tissues such as the neck, wings and thigh bones. Their findings could help settle an ongoing debate about how these animals’ flight behavior will be affected by the massive bony crest on their heads in the future.
“It’s a unique fossil,” Costa says.
prehistoric sky giants
Pterosaurs were the closest relatives of the dinosaurs that inhabited the earth with them. While dinosaurs ruled the land, pterosaurs ruled the air. They lived side by side from the late Triassic period, more than two hundred million years ago, until the end of the Cretaceous period, when the two groups of reptiles were 66 million years ago. It became extinct due to an asteroid collision.
But unlike dinosaurs, which lived as modern birds, pterosaurs have no successors in the animal kingdom. Their fossils offer a glimpse into an era when these prehistoric creatures ruled the skies and were extremely rare. Their thin and brittle bones are often not preserved, and most pterosaurs are known only from highly fragmented skeletons.
Paleontologists have discovered pterosaur remains mainly in sediments that were previously submerged. The bodies of reptiles were buried long ago under fine silt on the bottom of prehistoric seas or lakes, where they slowly and only partially decayed due to the low oxygen content.
In the Ararib Basin of Brazil, which was once covered by saltwater lakes but is now a dry shrubland area, exceptionally well-preserved fossils have been found in limestone deposits. “These layers of rock open like a book, and within the pages you find the fossils,” says paleontologist and co-author Felipe Lima Pinheiro of the Universidade Federal do Pampa in São Gabriel, Brazil.
subordinate More than 110 species of pterosaursKnown so far no less than 27 It is found in the Araripe basin. The so-called “sticky tapes” belong to the most diverse and numerous group, in particular, pterosaurs of the genus Tupandactylus, which all have strange and huge bony combs on their heads.
Although the Araripe Basin is very rich in fossils, according to Pinheiro, pterosaur remains are rarely found there, let alone a complete skeleton. The illegal trade in fossils is a big problem. Beautiful fossils often end up in the hands of foreign buyers rather than in Brazilian museums and research centers.
“The almost complete fossil is a very important find,” said paleontologist Rodrigo Vargas Pegas of the Federal University of ABC in Santo André, who was not involved in the new study. “This is great news for Brazilian paleontology.”
In 2014, when the skeleton of Tupandactylus navigans Transferred to USP, it is enclosed in six beige limestone slabs. Victor Beccari, then an undergraduate and lead author of the new study, found that the bony crest on the pterosaur’s head occupies nearly three-quarters of the skull. “The comb is huge compared to the size of the animal, like a peacock’s tail,” he says.
paleontologists de Tupandactylus navigans in 2003 Described scientifically, I found that the bony crest is reminiscent of a sailor’s sail and suggested that the body part may have helped the animal propulsion in flight. In this case, according to the researchers, it must have been a creature with a short neck, in which the cervical vertebrae are held together by ossified tendons.
But when Beccari and his colleagues obtained a complete skeleton, they were finally able to properly investigate the reptile’s flight behavior. Using several CT scans of ancient bones, the team created a digital 3D model of the skeleton, which showed that Tupandactylus navigans It has a long neck, long hind legs, and a relatively short wingspan. The results seem to indicate that the reptile can walk better than it can fly. The extravagant bony crest on its head – perhaps a decoration with the function of a sexual sign – would have restrained the pterosaur from making very short trips, for example to escape predators.
But for another puzzle surrounding the vertex, the researchers had fewer leads. other tapestry strain, Tupandactylus imperator, lived at the same time and areas like Tupandactylus navigans It was identified from four skulls. This creature had a larger bony crest on its head but had the same shape as the skull Tupandactylus navigans. Scientists are now wondering whether they may not be two species of the same species.
“It’s a vague guess,” Pinero says. “A complete skeleton Tupandactylus imperator – If we can find that – it will be very useful.” Limestone deposits in the Arieb Basin may reveal more duct tape bones, providing more information about the existence of these mysterious reptiles.
Currently, thanks to the police raid, scientists and the general public have the opportunity to do so Tupandactylus navigans To marvel with your own eyes: he Extraordinary skeleton since 2017 On display at the Museu de Geosciências of the University of the South Pacific.
This article was originally published in English at NationalGeographic.com
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