News / Science & Technology

Ancient Flying Reptile's Head Crest Looked Like a Yacht's Sail

FILE - Brazilian paleontologist Alexander Kellner shows the fossils and a model of the prehistoric pterosaur to journalists during a presentation at Rio's Federal University Museum in Rio de Janeiro, March 20, 2013.
FILE - Brazilian paleontologist Alexander Kellner shows the fossils and a model of the prehistoric pterosaur to journalists during a presentation at Rio's Federal University Museum in Rio de Janeiro, March 20, 2013.
Reuters

A flying reptile whose head was topped with a big bony crest shaped like the sail of a yacht swooped through the skies over Brazil roughly 90 million years ago.

Scientists announced on Wednesday the remarkable discovery of about 50 fossilized skeletons of a creature called Caiuajara dobruskii, a type of flying reptile known as a pterosaur that lived alongside the dinosaurs, at a site in southern Brazil.

These pterosaurs, whose wingspans measured up to nearly 8 feet (2.35 meters), inhabited a lakeside oasis in a large desert region during the Cretaceous Period, living in vibrant colonies with others of the same species of all ages, they said.

“This helps us to have a glimpse on the anatomical variation achieved by this species from young to old,” said Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist with Brazil's National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who led the study.

Many pterosaurs, especially the later ones, boasted elaborate and sometimes large head crests. Caiuajara's head was topped with a big triangular crest that looked like “a bony sail,” according to Kellner. “It looks bizarre,” he said.

There is no indication that the crest was limited to either males or females, but it appears to have become ever larger relative to the rest of the body as the pterosaur matured.

“The size of the crest was small in young animals and very large in older ones,” Kellner added.

Pterosaurs were Earth's first flying vertebrates, with birds and bats making their appearances much later. They thrived from about 220 million years ago to 65 million years ago, when they were wiped out by the asteroid that also doomed the dinosaurs.

The researchers described 47 skeletons in their study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE and said they have identified 10 more not described in the paper. They said this species lived about 80 to 90 million years ago.

Caiuajara was toothless and most likely a fruit eater, Kellner said. The skeletons of the juveniles strongly suggested they could fly at a very young age, Kellner added.

Knowledge about pterosaurs has been spotty, with their fragile skeletons not lending themselves well to fossilization. The sheer number of Caiuajara individuals discovered and their variety of ages have made it one of the best understood pterosaurs ever found, the researchers said.

Chinese scientists in June said they had unearthed no fewer than 40 adult individuals of another newly identified pterosaur species as well as five pterosaur eggs - very rare indeed - preserved beautifully in three dimensions.

No eggs of Caiuajara have been found at the site in Brazil. “Not yet. But one is allowed to dream, correct?” said Kellner.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid