Strange new flying reptile fossils discovered

An artist's take on Caiuajara dobruskii. (Maurilio Oliveira/Museu Nacional-UFRJ)
An artist's take on Caiuajara dobruskii. (Maurilio Oliveira/Museu Nacional-UFRJ)

A new species of flying reptile has been classified from remains found in Brazil, scientists reported Wednesday in PLoS ONECaiuajara dobruskii, which lived around 80 million years ago, provided researchers with quite the haul: At least 47 individuals have been identified from the skeletal remains found.

The species must have been quite social to be found in such a large group,the scientists reported in the study. The evidence suggests that these reptiles lived in colonies surrounding a lake in the otherwise dry desert. Their wingspans started out around .65 meters, and gradually reached up to 2.35 meters at maturity. Because skeletal size didn't change much between childhood and adulthood, the study states, the reptiles were most likely able to fly at a very young age.

But one thing that did change rapidly with age was Caiuajara dobruskii's unusual bony head crest. The ridge jutted out from a large opening in the creature's skull, just in front of the eyes.

The bony crest's transition, from young (white) to mature (red). (Manzig et al)
The bony crest's transition, from young (white) to mature (red). (Manzig et al)

In younger animals, the crest was small and sloping. As they aged, the crests grew larger and more steep.

Caiuajara dobruskii might have been a migratory creature that only visited the southern Brazil locale occasionally, albeit consistently. But it's more likely, the authors said in the study, that flocks of the reptile lived there for many years. The individuals they discovered probably died during droughts or dessert storms.

Rachel Feltman runs The Post's Speaking of Science blog.
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Rachel Feltman · August 13