The most complete and best ever preserved fossil belonging to a type of pterosaur was uncovered after a police raid in Brazil. Back in 2013, police in São Paulo’s Santos Harbour were investigating a fossil trade operation and found more than 3,000 specimens. They found several limestone slabs that were brought to the University of São Paulo where researchers used CT scans to discover numerous bones inside of them.
Once the bones were found in the slabs, the experts then began analyzing them in 2016 and have recently revealed their findings. The type of tapejarid (a subgroup of pterosaurs) has been named Tupandactylus navigans. Known for its giant head crest, this pterosaur flew the Brazilian skies between 145 and 100.5 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period. This specific specimen lived approximately 115 million years ago and its remains were initially found at Brazil’s Crato Formation.
While fossils have previously been found of the Tupandactylus navigans species, they have only been partial skeletons, but the one recovered in the police raid is nearly complete as it consisted of the majority of its body which even included some soft tissue.
This is incredibly significant as researchers were finally able to determine what the species fully looked like as explained by Victor Beccari who is a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of São Paulo, “The specimen is exceptionally well-preserved, with over 90% of its skeleton and soft-tissue impressions of the head crest and the keratinous beak (a structure similar to that found in birds, named rhamphotheca).”
Based on detailed analysis of the specimen, the experts have revealed that the Tupandactylus navigans had a long neck, a wingspan that measured more than 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) and was 1 meter in height (3.3 feet) with about 40% of that consisting of its gigantic head crest (it also had a large crest on its chin). Since its head was so tall with a long neck, it probably didn’t fly for long distances and would have spent the majority of its time on the ground searching for food such as fruit and seeds. On the other hand, Beccari noted, “The skeleton shows all the adaptations for a powered flight, which the animal may have used to quickly flee predators.”
A picture of the fossil and an artist’s illustration of what the Tupandactylus navigans would have looked like can be seen here.
Their research was published in the journal PLOS ONE where it can be read in full.