Fossils seized in police raid debunk prehistoric flying reptile

Limestone slabs recovered from a 2013 police raid in Brazil revealed the most complete fossil of a pterosaur species ever found, providi...


Limestone slabs recovered from a 2013 police raid in Brazil revealed the most complete fossil of a pterosaur species ever found, providing new details on the appearance and behavior of the flying reptile approximately 110 million years old.

The discovery also draws attention to the question of scientific colonialism – the withdrawal (and sometimes outright theft) of objects of scientific value from their country of origin by fossil traders or more developed countries. According to the authors of a new report on the fossil, Brazil and other countries that have historically had their fossils smuggled or taken to other countries now have the infrastructure to responsibly manage and study them. – and should generate benefits such as scientific discovery and related tourism. with a rich national cache of fossils.

The raid, at a port near São Paulo, led to the confiscation of around 3,000 fossils, including many fish and insects, according to Victor Beccari, graduate student and lead author of the study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The centerpiece was the almost complete skeleton of the pterosaur species, Tupandactylus navigans, preserved in six limestone slabs.

The bizarre reptile must have been breathtaking to see. With a giant Mohawk-style crest, bird’s beak, and a body covered in something that looks but not quite like fur, the pterosaur probably stands out even among other exotic creatures from the early Cretaceous period. Its sprawling wingspan indicated that it almost certainly flew, but probably only short distances due to its long neck and large crest. He probably spent a lot of time looking for food on the ground, the researchers said.

The crest, researchers suspect, was a blessing and a curse. Individuals with larger-than-average headgear may have been more likely to attract a partner. The compromise? Greater vulnerability to predators. (Die young and leave a beautiful corpse, perhaps.)

Pterosaur fossils are rare. Their bones are extremely fragile, even more so than those of birds, according to the researchers.

A fluctuating salinity lake that was created when Africa and Brazil parted ways was ideal for fossil preservation. Researchers have access to many preserved fish with their internal organs from this region. Mr. Beccari suspects that their pterosaur specimen may have died by the lake or by a river that dragged the body into the lake.

“We believe that at the bottom of the lake there was no oxygen, so no animal or bacteria could break down the animal,” Beccari said. “If he could reach that part of the lake, he would be safe from decomposition.” “

Brazilian authorities had to sort out legal issues as to exactly where the fossil was to be sent. It was found in northeastern Brazil but was seized in São Paulo, in the southeast of the country. It was eventually handed over to the University of São Paulo, and in 2016, Mr. Beccari, then an undergraduate, and a team of researchers began to study it.

David Hone, a paleontologist at Queen Mary University in London who was not on the research team, said there were “no big surprises” in the new article but it does provide a description more complete anatomy of the species. While he was previously “only known for a skull,” he said, “we now have the whole animal.”

“It’s a spectacular fossil,” he continued. “This group is known for their giant head crest. This one is big and ridiculous even by those standards, which is really really neat. “

For Dr. Hone, the most important part of the research is that it happened. “Smuggling fossils out of Brazil is a huge problem for science,” he said.

As an example of what Brazil has been denied by scientific colonialism, Beccari cited places in the United States, such as Wyoming or Utah, whose famous dinosaur fossil treasures “bring thousands of tourists every day. year “.

“Now that we have 3D models and other technologies to study this animal, there is no reason for this animal to leave our country,” Beccari said. “If it stays in the country, it attracts tourism and more people have contact with their heritage. It’s also good for science.

Dr Hone noted that movie stars and other wealthy people pay large sums to display fossils on their walls. A few years ago, actor Nicolas Cage returned the skull of a Bataar tyrannosaurus to Mongolia after being contacted by the Ministry of Homeland Security.

“This is a specimen that was likely to be smuggled or sold illegally,” Dr Hone said of the pterosaur, “and is now in a museum and available for research.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Fossils seized in police raid debunk prehistoric flying reptile
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