Science

One of the most complete pterosaur skeletons ever discovered was found during São Paulo police raid

A fossil confiscated during a 2013 police raid in Brazil is from an ‘exceptionally well-preserved’ and ‘almost complete’ pterosaur, according to a newly published study. 

The fossil, which dates to the Early Cretaceous period and is more than 90 percent complete, is of a tapejarid, a toothless reptile that lived between 144 and 100 million years ago.

The remains also include a ‘remarkable preservation of soft tissues, which makes it the most complete tapejarid known thus far,’ the authors wrote in the study. 

‘The Federal Police of Brazil was investigating a fossil trade operation and recovered, in 2013, over 3,000 specimens,’ the study’s lead author, Victor Beccari, told CNN.   

A fossil confiscated during a Brazil police raid is an ‘almost complete’ pterosaur, a new study says

The fossilized pterosaur belongs to the Tupandactylus navigans species. 

‘The specimen was intercepted during a police raid at Santos Harbour, São Paulo State, Brazil, and confiscated together with several other exceptionally well-preserved fossils’ in 2013, according to the study.

It was eventually transferred to the Laboratório de Paleontologia Sistemática of the Instituto de Geociências at Universidade de São Paulo for further study.  

The fossil is more than 90% complete and is of a tapejarid, a toothless reptile. The remains include soft tissues, making it the most complete tapejarid known

The fossil is more than 90% complete and is of a tapejarid, a toothless reptile. The remains include soft tissues, making it the most complete tapejarid known

‘Fossils in Brazil are protected by law, as they are part of the geological heritage of the country,’ Beccari continued.

‘Therefore, collecting fossils requires permission, and the trade and private collections of fossils are illegal in Brazil.’ 

In 1942, Brazil enacted a law that states fossils are state property because they are a part of Brazil’s cultural heritage and can not be sold commercially, according to CNET

This particular tapejarid had an estimated wingspan of almost 9 feet (2.7m) and was nearly 3 feet (1m) tall, with the crest accounting for 40 percent of that

This particular tapejarid had an estimated wingspan of almost 9 feet (2.7m) and was nearly 3 feet (1m) tall, with the crest accounting for 40 percent of that

Beccari studied the fossils using a CT-scan to look at the bones still under sediment, ‘shedding new light on the anatomy of this pterodactyloid clade,’ the authors wrote in the study.

The tapejarid fossil was originally found in the Crato Formation in the Araripe basin in northeastern Brazil.

The experts dated the creature, known for its long neck and giant crest on its head, to roughly 115 million years ago. 

The 115 million year-old fossil of the tapejarid (artist rendering) was snagged during a police raid at Santos Harbour, São Paulo State, Brazil in 2013. It was originally found in the Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil

The 115 million year-old fossil of the tapejarid (artist rendering) was snagged during a police raid at Santos Harbour, São Paulo State, Brazil in 2013. It was originally found in the Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil

This particular tapejarid had an estimated wingspan of almost 9 feet (2.7m) and was nearly 3 feet (1m) tall, with the crest accounting for 40 percent of that.

‘With such a tall head crest and a relatively long neck, this animal may have been restricted to short-distance flights.’ Beccari told CNN. 

The study was published today the scientific journal PLOS One

Earlier this month, researchers uncovered another pterosaur, Thapunngaka shawi, which had a 23-foot wingspan and was the ‘closest thing we have to a real life dragon.’

In July, a study conducted by the universities of Portsmouth and Bristol found that newly-hatched pterosaurs may have been able to fly.

PTEROSAURS WERE FLYING REPTILES THAT LIVED IN THE JURASSIC AND CRETACEOUS

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles who ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Scientists have long debated where pterosaurs fit on the evolutionary tree.

The leading theory today is that pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and crocodiles are closely related and belong to a group known as archosaurs, but this is still unconfirmed.

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles who ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (artist's impression pictured)

Neither birds nor bats, pterosaurs were reptiles who ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (artist’s impression pictured)

Pterosaurs evolved into dozens of species. Some were as large as an F-16 fighter jet, and others as small as a sparrow.

They were the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight – not just leaping or gliding, but flapping their wings to generate lift and travel through the air.

Pterosaurs had hollow bones, large brains with well-developed optic lobes, and several crests on their bones to which flight muscles attached. 


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