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Lower Jaw Of Toothless Flying Reptile Discovered In Brazil

September 22, 2016:

by Shaena Montanari

Paleontologists have added a new character to the cast of flying reptiles that were darkening the skies in Brazil over 100 million years ago. A new spectacular fossil find represents another bizarre toothless flying reptile, adding to the considerable diversity of Brazillian pterosaurs.

Even though the only part of the skeleton that was found was the lower jaw, it is nearly complete and well preserved enough for researchers from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade Federal do Ceara to give it a new name: Aymberedactylus cearensis. This fossil is presented today in PLOS ONE in an article headed up by paleontologist Rodrigo Pêgas.

This new species name uses the word “aymbere” from Brazil’s native Tupi language meaning “little lizard.” Aymberedactylus is a type of pterosaur known as a tapejarine, which are known for their majestic cranial crests that took on fantastical shapes. Pêgas notes that this species would have had a wingspan of about 2 meters, making it averaged sized for pterosaurs in this group — but small considering some pterosaurs had 11 meter wingspans.

The jaw of the new pterosaur is thin and long, likely representing one of the most ancient members of the tapejarine group. The lack of teeth and jaw shape indicate this new species and others related to it could have subsisted primarily on fruit. “Advanced tapejarines exhibit a unique jaw morphology, with a short, deep and down-turned mandible which forms a gap with the upper jaw during occlusion, somewhat parrot-like. A number of scientists have interpreted this bill shape as a fruit-plucking device,” Pêgas said, but more research is needed to see if a more ancient tapejarine like this one was definitely a fruit-eater.

Aymberedactylus was found in the Crato Formation, one of the world’s most important fossil deposits of this age that preserves both bones and soft tissue impressions. A rich diversity of reptiles, bird feathers and insects are known from these marine limestones. It likely represents an area that was a coastal lagoon by the sea during the Early Cretaceous.

It is important to research pterosaurs as Pegas explains: “Pterosaurs are already known to exhibit a high diversity of forms, but some of their phylogenetic relationships are still controversial and intermediate forms are still comparatively rare — as are any pterosaur fossils.” Luckily as the scientists keep looking, the Crato Formation keeps providing new and exciting fossils of these enigmatic animals that soared in the skies above the dinosaurs on land.



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