One-of-a-Kind Fossil Saved in Brazilian Police Raid

A police raid in Brazil has led scientists to discover the most complete and well-preserved fossil of the pterosaur, a flying reptile that soared the skies back during the Early Cretaceous Period.

The fossil, which was found in 2013 and was dated to about 115 million years ago, reveals new information about the pterosaur species known as Tupandactylus navigans.

A new study published in the journal Plos One shared the exciting news about the rare fossil. Using a CT scanner to x-ray the bones, the scientists were able to discover that the soft tissue was actually part of a large head crest. The team was also able to find the Tupandactylus navigans had short wings and relatively long neck and legs which suggests the animal walked on land more often that it took flight.

It is finally here! Our paper on the most complete pterosaur from Brazil, the amazing Tupandactylus navigans specimen GP/2E 9266 just hit the ground!

— Victor Beccari (@beccarivictor) August 25, 2021

"I've seen many exceptional, beautifully preserved pterosaurs in Brazil and abroad, but specimens like this one, which is nearly complete and articulated, with soft tissue preservation, are scarce," Fabiana Rodrigues Costa, a palaeontologist at the Federal University of ABC in São Paulo, Brazil, and co-author of the study told National Geographic. "It's like winning a lottery."

The winged reptile which stood over four feet tall is well known for the large crests that sat on the top of their heads. However, this is the first time scientists have been able to study more than just the skull of the reptile, the study stated. Before the discovery, scientists were unable to reconstruct how the creature would have looked and behaved back when it was roaming the earth.

"This specimen also has an unusually large crest on its chin, part of its already impressive skull ornamentation," scientists wrote in the study. "Precisely how all these factors contributed to the flight performance and lifestyle of these animals will be a subject of future research, among the many other questions that can be answered through study of this exceptional fossil."

The fossil was discovered in one of the thousands of limestone slabs hidden in barrels on their way to be smuggled out of the country by Brazil's illegal fossil trade back in 2013. The raid, part of an investigation called Operation Munich, successfully seized over 3,000 specimens that were on their way to be illegally sold to private collectors and museums, according to National Geographic.

Dinosaur Fossil
A police raid in Brazil has led scientists to discover the most complete and well-preserved fossil of the pterosaur species known as Tupandactylus navigans. Scientists worked from 2016 until now to piece together the full puzzle of the winged-dinosaur. LuFeeTheBear/Getty Images

"This pterosaur was over 2.5 meters [8.2 feet] in wingspan and was 1 meter [3.3 feet] tall [40 percent of this is accounted for by the head crest]," Victor Beccari, vertebrate paleontologist at the University of São Paulo and author of the study, told CNN. "With such a tall head crest and a relatively long neck, this animal may have been restricted to short-distance flights."

After Brazilian authorities delivered the six limestone slabs to the University of São Paulo for research, scientists were able to piece together the pieces of the slabs and discovered the complete fossil record. The scientists worked from 2016 until now to piece together the full puzzle and are now able to illustrate what the flying reptile looked like.

"The specimen is exceptionally well-preserved, with over 90 percent 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]," Beccari explained to CNN. "This specimen allows us to understand more about the complete anatomy of this animal and brings insights into its ecology."

The new discovery is also inspiring artists and science enthusiasts to create paleoart on Twitter.

Tupandactylus navigans.
Variant 1
.#paleoart #pterosaur #paleontology

— PaleoLee (@matheusfgadelha) August 25, 2021

I might be late with paleo news but I heard a new genus of Tupandactylus was discovered, Tupandactylus navigans. So here's my take on it albeit stylized.#pterosaur #tupandactylus

— DoragoonLagoon (@Art_Doragoon) August 16, 2021