Pterosaur fossil confiscated from trafficking is one of the best preserved of the species

Paleontologist Victor Beccari felt as if he had won the lottery in 2016 when he received a fossil pterosaur of the species in his hands. Tupandactylus navigans.

This was not just any object. It was a fossil that, three years earlier, had almost been smuggled abroad and, more importantly, maintained exceptionally well, to the point of being considered one of the best preserved specimens known to exist.

For Beccari, it was a golden chance to study as an object of scientific initiation research, since the fossil included even the animal’s soft tissues. It is formed by six stone slabs that, together, include the skull and skeleton of the animal almost completely complete, with few broken parts.

The pterosaur in question lived about 25 million years, in the Cretceo period, in the region where the Araripe basin is today, in the northeast region of Brazil, between the states of Cear, Pernambuco and Piau.

Like other pterosaurs of the Tapejaridae family, its main characteristic is the presence of a cephalic crest (on the head) formed by a trabecular bone (porous) at the base It is a kind of possibly collagenous soft tissue membrane, but the researchers have not yet been able to define its composition at the top. Wednesday’s edition (25) of the prestigious scientific journal PLoS One, one of the most important in the area of ​​biology.

With a wing span that could reach 3 m and a height from the feet to the top of the steel crest. Approximately 1 m away, Tupandactylus navigans was a species that fed mainly on fruits and seeds that it picked from the ground or from lower trees, scientists believe. Flying was probably not one of his most routine activities.

The crest on the head is very developed, it is quite large, which brings several costs to the animal, a which can harm the flight instead, so we believe it is more plausible that it was used as a display to attract individuals of the opposite sex, more or less like a peacock’s tail, explains Beccari.

Fruit of the collaboration between five research institutions, including the University of So Paulo, where Beccari graduated in biological sciences, the Federal University of ABC (Ufabc) and the Federal University of Pampa (Unipampa), of Rio Grande from the South, the publication of the article represents the beginning of a new phase of investigation of this and other species of pterosaur, but also the end of a process that took years due to the origin of the material.

The fossil was seized by the Federal Police in 112 out of about 3. examples of semi-precious and fossil rocks that would be smuggled abroad.

After the seizure, the material was sent to the Institute of Geosciences at USP where it underwent a process of cataloging and inclusion in the paleontology collection . Only in 2016 was it available for study, when Beccari was able to start working with the material.

Full skeletons, such as the Tupandactylus navigans, have a very high market value at auctions abroad, and it is likely that this would be the fate of the Brazilian pterosaur.

The first fossil of the species was described by German researchers in 112 and is currently in a collection abroad. The problem is that we didn’t even have how to know where the material was going, it could go to a private collection, and it wouldn’t be available to the scientific community, says Beccari.

For Fabiana Costa, professor of paleontology at Ufabc and one of the authors of the study, the material is impressive for being an articulated skeleton with a high level of preservation, extremely rare and somewhat informative. Fortunately, the specimen did not fly out, literally, but it took us very little to lose this and many other materials that were seized in the PF operation at the Port of Santos, he says.

The tapejardeos are also known for some locations in China and, to a lesser extent, for the Upper Cretceous of Morocco and Spain, although these records are not confirmed.

As for Araripe, the species Tupandactylus imperator, brother of navigans was also described ). The two species are very similar to each other, with the difference that the crest of imperator is more elongated on the back of the head, while in

navigans it’s taller and more curved.

But, as before navigans was only known from preserved skulls, it was not possible to trace the differences between the two species very well except for the crest and the size of the head, which can be a highly variable characteristic. among the animals.

The preserved skeleton of navigans also brought important information about how the animal lived.

The coolest thing about this fossil is that it allows you to open a series of new studies as well, such as specimen preservation methods, wing opening, biomechanical studies, sexual dimorphism , among others, says paleontologist Lucas Piazentin, a specialist in pterosaurs and who recently defended his master’s thesis at the USP Biosciences Institute on the subject, and did not participate in the study of the.

For paleontologist Luiz Eduardo Anelli, curator of the paleontology collection at the Institute of Geosciences and also author of the PLoS study, the PF’s most recent seizures of smuggled fossils only show a greater interest in Brazilian paleontology, and it could be one more step towards the consolidation of a paleontological culture in the population, which would be something to be valued.

A lot of material [para fora], but it has caused more and more inconvenience mainly because Brazilian paleontologists began to speak out and denounce, even leading to the withdrawal of scientific articles published with smuggled fossils [como o dinossauro Ubirajara jubatus]. This animal could only be born to science like this, now born let’s see what Brazilian paleontologists will be able to extract from this and other specimens, and I believe a lot, he says.

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