Newly Discovered Pterosaur Is Unlike Any We've Ever Seen

Newly Discovered Pterosaur Is Unlike Any We've Ever Seen

The discovery of forty seven skeletons of the flying reptiles gives paleontologists new insights into how these dinosaur-era animals lived.

On the outskirts of Cruzeiro do Oeste in southern Brazil, paleontologists have uncovered the bones of almost fifty pterosaurs, large flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs. The pterosaurs are a new species with a large bony crest on their heads, a feature not seen in other pterosaur species. Pterosaurs, sometimes called pterodactyls, are the earliest known flying vertebrates, animals that have backbones. The newly excavated discovery is a huge group of adults and juveniles, giving paleontologists a unique chance to chart pterosaur growth. The younger pterosaurs look like miniature versions of the adults, suggesting that they could fly from an early age. The forty seven specimens uncovered are just the first fossils from this site, and hundreds more could still be waiting to be discovered.

The skeletons belong to a new species, Caiuajara dobruskii, named in honor of Alexandre Dobruski and his son, JoŃo Dobruski, who together first discovered fossils at the site in 1971. The article, published August 13 in the journal PLOS ONE, describes the results of the first excavation at the site. The site is a rare find because it preserves, in three dimensions, a large group of pterosaur bones of the same species. Most pterosaur discoveries have been of individuals, not groups. Differences in the skulls and leg bones suggest that many of the specimens are juvenile pterosaurs or young adults. The smallest of the specimens had a wingspan of just 2.1 feet, while the adults have a wingspan of up to 7.7 feet. Only two skulls believed to be adult pterosaurs have been recovered, but all of the skulls show the bony head crest. The head crest is smaller and less pronounced on the juveniles. The study authors speculate that the pterosaurs may have lived in a colony around an inland lake, with the population living there over generations. The arrangement of the bones suggests that the pterosaurs at the site died over an extended period of time, not in a single catastrophic event.

The study is the strongest evidence yet that pterosaurs were social reptiles that lived in groups. Though this site only includes one species, the evidence gathered can be used to support existing theories that other species of pterosaurs were also social animals, living in flocks like flamingos. Another significant pterosaur find, the oldest known species, was discovered in China and published in April 2014.

Source: PLOS ONE

Permalink

And SyFy just released "Sharktopus vs Pteracuda"... co-incidence?

...yes!

that is neat. I will have to look more into this later.

I thought these guys were about saving weight, not adding it. That crest must have been pretty important then. Knowing other dinosaurs i'd wager it was about heat regulation, but it's also fun to imagine they used it to help steer.

That's pretty neat. Wonder what those huge crests were used for, though...

I'm not sure how to make it out here. Like, I can't imagine the functionality of it.

Alexander Kirby:
I thought these guys were about saving weight, not adding it. That crest must have been pretty important then. Knowing other dinosaurs i'd wager it was about heat regulation, but it's also fun to imagine they used it to help steer.

CrazyGirl17:
That's pretty neat. Wonder what those huge crests were used for, though...

Most speculate that head crests such as these within pterosaurs were social displays to attract females and ward off rival males, although to confirm this they'll have to determine the sex of the adults which is unlikely.

This is a big deal though, my teacher is one of the leading pterosaur researchers in the country, i'll probably be hearing about this a lot come september.

I'm fairly sure they're Tapejarids.

Edit: After a quick glance at the paper, yeah, they're Tapejarids and this is a VERY big deal. Besides from a few specimens from Germany and China, i've never heard of pterasaurs this complete.

The thing I don't get is why these critters decided to shack up in the desert, what the hell were they eating?

Also, Nat Geo quoted one of my other lecturers on the find, neat!

PunkRex:

I'm fairly sure they're Tapejarids.

They're clearly Pkunk.

Shdwrnr:

PunkRex:

I'm fairly sure they're Tapejarids.

They're clearly Pkunk.

Pkunk?

PunkRex:

Shdwrnr:

PunkRex:

I'm fairly sure they're Tapejarids.

They're clearly Pkunk.

Pkunk?

It was a Star Control reference. A joke. http://wiki.uqm.stack.nl/Pkunk

OT: I thought the same thing as you when I saw the artist's rendition followed by, "What do you mean 'unlike any we've ever seen'? I read about these guys when I was a teen."

Shdwrnr:

PunkRex:

Shdwrnr:

They're clearly Pkunk.

Pkunk?

It was a Star Control reference. A joke. http://wiki.uqm.stack.nl/Pkunk

OT: I thought the same thing as you when I saw the artist's rendition followed by, "What do you mean 'unlike any we've ever seen'? I read about these guys when I was a teen."

From what I remember from my lectures, most Tapejarid remains were fairly fragmented and the size of the head crest were mostly educated guesses, seems these guesses were pretty close though.

"Pterosaurs, sometimes called pterodactyls"

Well...yes...but you shouldn't encourage them.

PunkRex:

Most speculate that head crests such as these within pterosaurs were social displays to attract females and ward off rival males, although to confirm this they'll have to determine the sex of the adults which is unlikely.

Coming from a place of total ignorance... what are the chances of the crest being used for aerodynamic purposes? As in, could it be used as a stabilizer or for yaw control? I've never seen any aircraft with the empennage at the bow, so I guess there's an obvious reason on why it's not the case I'm missing...

When we hypothesize the purpose of structures on extinct animals, we use extant creatures of similar types as models. Most modern creatures with fancy crests like this among extant flying animals have them to attract mates or other displays of status. Other reasonable guesses would be along the lines of the crest being hollow and acting like a resonating chamber for vocalizations.

Am I the only one who stared at the picture in the article trying to figure out exactly what he was looking at?

Shdwrnr:
When we hypothesize the purpose of structures on extinct animals, we use extant creatures of similar types as models. Most modern creatures with fancy crests like this among extant flying animals have them to attract mates or other displays of status. Other reasonable guesses would be along the lines of the crest being hollow and acting like a resonating chamber for vocalizations.

Obviously they did have to be *able* to fly with it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was helpful. Look no further than the peacock for a clear demonstration of that. It's all about the sexytimes.

Also, it's generally easier to steer with something like this if it's dragging behind the propulsion, rather than leading it - just look at ships' and airplane's rudders, birds' tails, etc.

RA92:

PunkRex:

Most speculate that head crests such as these within pterosaurs were social displays to attract females and ward off rival males, although to confirm this they'll have to determine the sex of the adults which is unlikely.

Coming from a place of total ignorance... what are the chances of the crest being used for aerodynamic purposes? As in, could it be used as a stabilizer or for yaw control? I've never seen any aircraft with the empennage at the bow, so I guess there's an obvious reason on why it's not the case I'm missing...

I've only covered the basics when it comes to pterosaur biology but chances are slim, but not impossible I guess. The fact is that most palaeontologists compare extinct animals to extant ones (obviously) and from what I know there arn't any bird, bug or bat species that use large extremities such as crests for aerodynamic purposes.

BUT, you'd be surprised how much palaeontology is conjecture, especially when it comes to pterosaurs. This is why this find is such a big deal, most pterosaurs are based off only a hand full of small bones, e.g. Quetzalcoatlus (the big mother quacker) is based off a few wing bones, neck vertebrae and comparisons to smaller species.

coil:
Obviously they did have to be *able* to fly with it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was helpful. Look no further than the peacock for a clear demonstration of that. It's all about the sexytimes.

Also, it's generally easier to steer with something like this if it's dragging behind the propulsion, rather than leading it - just look at ships' and airplane's rudders, birds' tails, etc.

Basically this, even if that thing was mostly hollow, a strong wind could put a huge strain on the neck.

Another thing to note is that a large portion of our image of archosaurs is through artists rendition and a lot of that (although it is getting better) was simply to take the proposed complete skeleton and drape a layer of skin over it. If this animal had a crest as large as this, it is likely that it's neck and supporting muscles were quite large. It is also worth noting that even today we have examples of animals that have developed traits due to sexual dimorphism that are detrimental to the animal's health or well being, so the idea that the crest was a legitimate hindrance does not make the current hypothesis invalid or inconceivable.

CrazyGirl17:
That's pretty neat. Wonder what those huge crests were used for, though...

mating display what else. a lot of modern day animals have large cumbersome display parts o that makes sense doesn't it?

@coil
Just because it got wings doesn't mean it can fly.

@PunkRex
Just because WE found their remains on a desert doesn't mean they thrive in a desert environment. A lot of things can change in 66 million years.

ExtraDebit:
Just because WE found their remains on a desert doesn't mean they thrive in a desert environment.

No, but the fact that we found a whole lot of them in a place that was a desert in the Cretaceous period when they lived, is a pretty good indication.

PunkRex:

RA92:

PunkRex:

Most speculate that head crests such as these within pterosaurs were social displays to attract females and ward off rival males, although to confirm this they'll have to determine the sex of the adults which is unlikely.

Coming from a place of total ignorance... what are the chances of the crest being used for aerodynamic purposes? As in, could it be used as a stabilizer or for yaw control? I've never seen any aircraft with the empennage at the bow, so I guess there's an obvious reason on why it's not the case I'm missing...

I've only covered the basics when it comes to pterosaur biology but chances are slim, but not impossible I guess. The fact is that most palaeontologists compare extinct animals to extant ones (obviously) and from what I know there arn't any bird, bug or bat species that use large extremities such as crests for aerodynamic purposes.

BUT, you'd be surprised how much palaeontology is conjecture, especially when it comes to pterosaurs. This is why this find is such a big deal, most pterosaurs are based off only a hand full of small bones, e.g. Quetzalcoatlus (the big mother quacker) is based off a few wing bones, neck vertebrae and comparisons to smaller species.

Thanks for the extensive reply.

I actually dug around a little bit, and came across this study trying to figure out the aerodynamic effects of large crests:

http://arstechnica.com/science/2011/05/a-pterosaurs-crest-is-good-for-steering-too/

In short, the stabilizer at the fore tend to decrease stability, but increase maneuverability. The researchers were still as tentative as you about drawing any conclusions, though.

Is it just me or do those pterosaur in the picture kind of look like tucan?

RA92:

Thanks for the extensive reply.

I actually dug around a little bit, and came across this study trying to figure out the aerodynamic effects of large crests:

http://arstechnica.com/science/2011/05/a-pterosaurs-crest-is-good-for-steering-too/

In short, the stabilizer at the fore tend to decrease stability, but increase maneuverability. The researchers were still as tentative as you about drawing any conclusions, though.

That was a neat read, thanks for the link.

As they mentioned in the article, maneuverability is a possibility but the biggest problem with this theory is what exactly they would have needed that kind of maneuvering for. Smaller pterosaurs were thought to mostly eat insects so it wouldn't be to surprising for them to need it, yet most of the smaller species don't have such crests. The largest ones used their immense height to sneak up on small lizards and (later) mammals on the ground so they wouldn't have needed them. When it comes to mid sized ones such as Tapejarids however their diets are a little harder to figure out...

or maybe I just havn't read that part of the book yet, derp!

ExtraDebit:
@coil
Just because it got wings doesn't mean it can fly.

@PunkRex
Just because WE found their remains on a desert doesn't mean they thrive in a desert environment. A lot of things can change in 66 million years.

This is true but trust me, they would have known if it was a desert or not. Aeolian (wind eroded) rocks are very easy to identify and characteristic of either deserts of beach settings, chances are these are what they were found in.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here