Fossil rescued by police in Brazil

It was really something unusual. Indeed, in Brazil there is the illegal sale of fossils. The police have managed to recover many of them. They were handed over to the University of São Paulo. A real treasure was discovered there. The fossil rescued by the Brazilian police from a complete specimen of the Tupandactylus navigans A species of flying reptile from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago).

The fossil rescued by police in Brazil is shown here in a digital recreation.
The fossil rescued by police in Brazil appears here in a digital recreation.
More than skulls

The only previous samples were from the skull of the animal. It belongs to a subgroup of the pterosaurs. In Brazil, its fossils are abundant, but most of them are just skulls. But the specimen found after this raid is in a very good state of preservation. Says Victor Beccari, a researcher at the University of São Paulo. It has “more than 90% of its skeleton and remains of the soft tissue of the head crest. And of a keratin beak, similar to that of today’s birds”.

The fossil is spread over six large stones. They were cut on purpose and fit perfectly together. Possibly they were cut to be sold for construction. That is, until they noticed this fossil. Experts believe it will be very difficult to find the exact location.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One. Allows us to know in detail the physical characteristics of this species. It had a wingspan of more than 2.5 metres (from wing tip to wing tip) and was up to a metre high. Almost half of the height corresponded to the crest.

The fossil is spread over 6 symmetrically cut pieces of rock.
The fossil is spread over 6 symmetrically cut pieces of rock.
Calculating the flight

“The skeleton shows different adaptations to have a powerful take-off. It would be used to flee quickly from predators,” says Beccari. The Tupandactylus would be driven to do most of its day-to-day life on land. “This animal could feed on hard plant material. Seeds, pine cones or hard fruits”. Jesús Marugán is a professor at the Paleontology Unit of the Autonomous University of Madrid. He highlights the “exceptional” quality of preservation. “It helps to know unknown details of the deep biology of these fossils”.

Tests on these remains are lined up. Beccari wants to know more details about the species and confirm some suspicions. “A 3D analysis of the skull will be used. We will estimate the bite force. We will understand what kind of feeding it had. And so we will test our hypothesis about the flight capabilities of this animal. The soft tissue of the crest is already being studied to understand its preservation… and perhaps even its coloration. We will do it with ultraviolet light,” he says.

The fossil rescued by police in Brazil will tell us a story of the whole species. And to think it could have been lost forever.

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