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

Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More