Scientists have discovered at least 47 skeletons from a new species of flying reptile in southern Brazil. According to the PLOS ONE study, the species, which has been named Caiuajara dobruskii, represents a new pterosaur. The discovery is exciting not only because of the sheer number of well-preserved specimens unearthed, but also because pterosaurs had never been found in large groups before which offers some insight into how they may have lived.
Pterosaurs, which made an appearance in Jurassic Park III, are an extinct group of flying reptiles that have been discovered on every continent. Aside from their apparent widespread distribution, scientists actually know relatively little about pterosaurs due to the fact that the fossil record of these reptiles is patchy. This is because most of the specimens recovered previously were incomplete and poorly documented. Furthermore, the majority of pterosaur species have been based on only one skeleton. The new discovery, however, offers us an enormous amount of information on these enigmatic animals.
The remarkably well-preserved specimens were unearthed from a rare bone bed containing hundreds of pterosaur bones. The site is a lake deposit of a Cretaceous period desert located near Cruzeiro do Oeste, southern Brazil. The finding was therefore surprising given the fact that the majority of pterosaurs discovered so far have been found in coastal areas or lagoons. This particular clade had also never been found this far south before.
C. dobruskii was equipped with a large wingspan of up to 7.7 feet (2.35 meters) and donned an unusual bony expansion from the skull that projected in front of its eyes. The specimens found also ranged in age from juvenile to adult, allowing the researchers to document the changes that occurred as they progressed into adulthood. The main obvious differences observed between younger and older specimens were the size and angle of the bony crest. Since the juvenile and adult skeletons were not strikingly different, the researchers suggest that that this species could likely fly from a very young age.
The fact that so many specimens were uncovered from one area also suggests that this species was sociable and lived in colonies; this particular group dwelled around an inland lake situated in a desert.
The researchers aren’t sure why these reptiles died, but they reason that a drought or desert storm could be responsible.
According to pterosaur expert Mark Witton, the story may not be over yet as he is fairly confident that the site may yield even more specimens, National Geographic reports.
[Via National Geographic and PLOS ONE]