Analysis of the most complete specimen of the pterosaur species Tupandactylus navigans

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The Araripe Basin in northeastern Brazil is well known for its fossil reserves, but in 2013 it was the scene of a crime ripped straight from an Indiana Jones movie. Barrels discovered during a police raid in the port of Santos hid, among other things, six limestone slabs containing the most complete specimen of Tupandactylus navigans – a species of pterosaur – ever discovered. A specimen of this caliber, of course, belongs to a museum and has since been turned over to the Laboratório de Paleontologia Sistemática at the Instituto de Geociências of the Universidade de São Paulo for research. The results were recently published in the journal Plos One.

“The federal police were already investigating the trafficking of fossils in Brazil at that time, and this operation was called ‘Operação Munique’ (Operation Munich). Most of the fossils are fish, insects, sometimes plants and reptiles. Only two pterosaurs were recovered in this apprehension, and I only managed to study the one we published in Plos One (the other is not as complete, but we plan to tackle it in the future) Victor Becarri, lead author of the paper, told SYFY WIRE.

Previously discovered specimens of this pterosaur consist of isolated skulls or partial skeletons, but this recent discovery is almost complete and well articulated, offering scientists new insight into the animal’s anatomy and behavior. Once removed from the barrels, the slabs were placed together like a tapestry and observed both visually and by X-ray computed tomography, which revealed structures still covered in sediment.

“Now we have a clearer picture of the complete skeleton of this animal, which was previously only known by its head. Being able to look at ecomorphology and start studying biomechanics with the 3D data we acquired is definitely my part. favorite of this job, ”says Becarri.

Native to the early Cretaceous period, Tupandactylus navigans belongs to a group of animals known as tapejaridae that covers geographies all over the world, including Europe, Asia and of course the Americas. Flying reptiles were known for their large ridges, which would set back even your average cassowary (a living dinosaur if we’ve seen one before). The precise purpose of these ridges is unknown, but may have been sexually dimorphic, playing a role in the mating process.

As for the impressive ridges, Tupa. Navigans is no exception, bearing the largest dental crest among the tapejarine pterosaurs, accounting for about 40 percent of its total height, whose soft tissues are beautifully preserved in the Brazilian specimen. Most important, however, are the details uncovered from the rest of the skeleton.

Like modern birds, pterosaur bones are hollow and fragile, making them less than ideal candidates for preservation. As such, complete specimens are notoriously rare, which makes this find particularly exciting.

Among the results presented by Beccari et al. is a new understanding of the relationship of Tupandactylus navigans with flight. We imagine pterosaurs as high-flying predators of the kind that could swoop down from the sky and attack a fleeing Jimmy Buffet, consuming him and his two frozen cocktails in one sip. In fact, Tupa. Navigans may have spent most of their time looking for food on the ground.

“Tupandactylus navigans had all the adaptations for powered flight, such as large areas of muscle anchoring in the first bone of the arm (the humerus) and the fusion of the first dorsal (dorsal) vertebrae into a structure we call a notarium” , explains Becarri. “However, he has a disproportionate head crest which, along with an elongated neck (which he had), could hamper long-distance flights. This animal may have used flight as an escape alternative for predators, or on short distances to find food and mates.

Body structures suggest that while theft was possible, it was costly in energy and could not be sustained for long periods of time. In addition, comparison with related species and examination of jaw structures indicate a primary regime of hard vegetation.

Instead of the aggressive top-flight predator of jurassic park glory, Tupa. Navigans was probably closer to a 3 foot tall turkey with an eight foot wingspan. While this incredible fossil specimen offered a lot of new data about the species, we might have learned even more.

“We lose a lot when a specimen is collected like this. Since we don’t know the exact location, we can’t continue to dig in the same spot to look for other specimens that lived and died with Tupandactylus navigans, ”Becarri says.“ We know it comes from the Lower Cretaceous Period. (about 115 million years ago) from the Crato Formation in Chapada do Araripe, northeastern Brazil. But the exact location and the layer are impossible to know. Therefore, even though we have many fossils from the same site, we cannot be 100% sure that all of these organisms existed at exactly the same time, as there can be even hundreds to thousands of years between them. layers there. This is one of the worst ways to collect fossils without the presence of a professional paleontologist.

The specimen is currently on display at the São Paulo Geoscience Museum


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