Police raid in Brazil revealed rare 100-million-year-old flying reptile

The pterosaur and a fern, in one render.

In Brazil, police seized a smugglers fossil that turned out to be one of the best preserves ever of a pterosaur, a flying reptile that lived on 100 million years ago. They caught it just in time, as the fossil had been cut up and was about to be shipped out of the country. Now, eight years later, the paleontologists were finally able to give it a good overview and they were delighted.

The fossil belongs to a Tupandactylus navigans, a type of pterosaur from the early Cretaceous period, the beginning of the end of the dinosaur era. First identified in 2003, T. browsers is a tapejarid, a medium sized pterosaur particularly recognizable for the large ridges of soft tissue. (Another example is the larger animal Tupandactylus imperator, whose sail eclipses that of T. browsers.) The savesD T. browsers has a beautiful a veil-like crest jutting out from its head and even a smaller crest running down from the tip of its jaw, like the sharpest chin you’ve ever seen. Tthe apéjarids have been fragmentary in the fossil record, so the recently described fossil revises paleontologists’ understanding of what a creature would look like.

The specimen was found during a police raid in the port of Santos de São Paulo, one of three raids in 2013 who found 3,000 specimens of fossils, intended to be smuggled out of the country. Unfortunately, the illegal trafficking of fossils out of Brazil is a alltoo muchcommon problem in the country; the thousands of fossils recovered by police in 2013 signify a long-standing problem that has yet to find a clear solution.

The 3,000 fossils were confiscated by Brazilian police and ultimately distributed to two Brazilian museums. Today, a team of Brazilian researchers released their analysis of the remarkably well-preserved T. browsers fossil found in the raid. The fossil had been sawn into six pieces but nevertheless offered a unique look at the morphology of the Lower Cretaceous pterosaur. Their results were published in the journal PLOS One.

“Now we have this specimen which not only has the complete skull, therefore the best preserved skull of all. Tupandactyl that we have, but also the almost fully articulated postcranial, ”said Victor Beccari, a paleontologist at the University of São Paulo and lead author of the article, during a video call.

The fossil pterosaur.

“We think this fossil is at least 95% complete, which is already a lot for paleontologists, but for a pterosaur it’s even crazier,” Beccari added. “Not only the bones, but the soft tissue – the crest and the beak. “

The fossil was irreparably damaged during its cutting, which was likely to facilitate transport. (“If we get a fossil with this specimen intact, there is no way in heaven or hell that you will cut the specimen like they did,” Beccari said.) But the smaller slices of the T. browsers The specimen allowed the research team to insert the fossil into a medical-grade CT scanner, imaging each layer of the fossil through the rock. They were then able to create a 3D working model of the shape and size of the entire body of the pterosaur.

“The authors did an excellent job describing in detail all the bone elements, including computed tomography, which brought a new look at morphology… Although it belongs to a known taxon, this specimen provides new information on the tapejarid pterosaurs as well as excellent tissue preservation, which can tell us more about the palaeobiology of the group ”, Alex Aires, a paleontologist at the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil who was not affiliated with the research, said In an e-mail.

Based on its morphology, its cephalic crest seemed too large to allow the pterosaur to fly long distances, although it was capable of powered flight – researchers believe he had a land-based foraging lifestyle. This pterosaur was fossilized in the limestone beds of present-day northeastern Brazil. This expanse of stone is called Crato Formation and is renowned for its conditions of conservation. According to other fossils found in this region, the pterosaur’s environment may have been a salt lake.

However, not everything is set in stone with the pterosaur. To beThe ccari team has yet to probe the 3D models they’ve built to better understand how T. browsers may have moved around in their environment. They also want to better understand its ecological niche. What is certain is that none of this would be possible if the fossil had been smuggled out of Brazil as planned.

More: Fossil Poaching and the Black Market in Dinosaur Bones


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