Brazilian police raid revealed ‘exceptional’ ancient fossil

Brazilian National Police force usually makes the headlines for their fatal drug seizures and crack down on illegal arms sales.

But in 2013, federal police had a more unusual target in mind: ancient fossils from when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Federal police conducted a thorough investigation into the country’s illegal fossil trade, ultimately recovering more than 3,000 fossil specimens in the Brazilian states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.

One of the specimens was a tapejarid fossil carefully preserved in the limestone rock. The fossil belongs to the species Tupandactylus navigans.

The Tapejaridae clade was unusual, toothless, Pterosaurs of the Cretaceous Period. They are known for their large, crested heads, which scientists believe may have been used as “navigate. ”

Thanks to a bizarre chain of events, the remarkably well-preserved fossil finally passed from the police to the paleontologist Victor Beccari.

This process, and the fossil itself, are described in a to study published Wednesday in the newspaper PLOS A. Before now, the Tupandactyl kind was known only by isolated skulls.

The discovery allowed Beccari’s research team to conduct a groundbreaking analysis of the ancient beast, revealing a glimpse into how it might have lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

“We were amazed when we saw the specimen for the first time,” said Beccari, a researcher at the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo. Reverse.

A close-up on the Tupandactylus navigans Fossil GP / 2E 9266, accompanied by a 3D rendering. Victor Beccari

What you need to know first – Fossils may seem like a strange thing for police to find, but over the past few decades, police raids have uncovered everything from dinosaur eggs in Spain and Australia for ancient fish fossils in the USA.

The underground world of the fossil trade is a big budget game, and, in turn, Brazil has prioritized the protection of these sought-after ancient finds.

“Fossils in Brazil are protected by law because they are part of the country’s geological heritage,” Beccari explains. “Collecting fossils requires permission, and trade and private collections of fossils are illegal in Brazil.”

Collectors who illegally export specimens can face up to 20 years in prison. The government has also worked with other countries to ensure safe return of illegally traded fossils.

“Many fossils are lost due to illegal trade every year.

For example, a 2020 study announcing the discovery of a feathered dinosaur was criticized when the Brazilian the scientists interviewed whether the export of the fossil to Germany in 1995 violated the country’s laws against the fossil trade.

“Many fossils are lost every year due to illegal trade, as fossils in private collections cannot be scientifically described, and even fossils that are now in museums abroad are difficult for paleontologists to access. Brazilian, ”explains Beccari.

How they did it – After the 2013 police raid, the Institute of Geosciences at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, acquired the fossils recovered from the police raid.

In 2016, Beccari first took a close look at the tapejarid fossil – known as “GP / 2E 9266” – while he was an undergraduate student of biological sciences at the University of São Paulo. This study is the first time that these remains have been officially described in a scientific article.

“It was already prepared before the police confiscated the specimen, so we could tell right away that it was an exceptional fossil,” Beccari explains. He is not sure exactly how the fossil was collected until police found it during the investigation.

“Specimen GP / 2E 9266 is preserved in six perfectly complementary yellowish limestone slabs,” write Beccari and his colleagues.

The study team performed a CT scan of the fossil, allowing them to generate a 3D model and better analyze its unique figures. The fossil is the most complete tapejarid known to date.

What’s new – Their analysis revealed GP / 2E 9266 as a specimen representing the Tupandactylus navigans species. The species was identified by its distinctive features, such as its impressive head crest.

Before police raid revealed complete fossil skeleton, researchers only had skull specimens to analyze Tupandactylus navigans. A more complete skeleton allows researchers to better study this little-known Cretaceous creature.

“The specimen is exceptionally well preserved,” Beccari says.

He states that the fossil originated in the fossil-rich Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil, where many thieves looted fossils over the years. Tapjerids were the most abundant type of pterosaur in Brazil.

An artist’s rendering of Tupandactylus navigans based on the newly discovered fossil. Victor Beccari

Why is this important – The exceptional preservation of the fossil suggests how the Tupandactylus navigans may have lived about 115 million years ago.

“This fossil is special because it is the most complete pterosaur in Brazil and it brings new information on the anatomy and ecology of this animal,” Beccari said.

The study team was particularly interested in unboxing the animal’s flight ability. Based on the fossil, the researchers concluded that the Tupandactylus navigans was only one meter (3.28 feet) high, although the main ridge alone occupied 40 percent of its height.

“The skeleton shows all the adaptations for powered flight, which the animal may have used to quickly flee predators,” Beccari explains, adding that the creature’s large crest may have restricted the animal to short-range flights.

Other features, such as the animal’s keratin beak – a structure similar to that of birds – suggests that the animal ate hard plants, such as seeds or nuts.

“The proportions of the limbs – wings and legs – also argue in favor of a terrestrial lifestyle, which means that this animal could spend most of its time on the ground and foraging for food,” Beccari explains.

And after – The discovery of this fossil may have been due to remarkable circumstances, but the story is far from over. Scientists have big plans for the sequel to GP / 2E 9266.

“The completeness of this fossil will allow us to further study many ecological and aerodynamic characteristics of this animal,” Beccari said.

Specifically, Beccari plans to use 3D analysis of the tapejarid’s skull to “understand what kind of food source Tupandactyl was using ”based on the bite of the beast.

He further hopes that this will result in an “aerodynamic study” that will test and confirm the hypothesis about the animal’s flight ability. The research team also plans to project UV light on the fossils, with the goal of determining the color of the animal’s prominent crest, which brings us one step closer to representing this flying, foraging pterosaur throughout. its splendor.

Abstract: A remarkably well-preserved, almost complete and articulated new specimen (GP / 2E 9266) of Tupandactylus navigans is described here for the Crato Formation of the Lower Cretaceous of Brazil. The new specimen features an almost complete skeleton, preserving both the skull and post-skull, coupled with remarkable soft tissue preservation, making it the most complete tapejarid known to date. A CT scan was performed to allow evaluation of the bones still covered with sediment. The specimen can be attributed to Tupa.navigans due to its vertical supra-premaxillary bone process and short, rounded parietal ridge. It also bears the largest dental crest among the tapejarine pterosaurs and a notarium, absent in other representatives of the clade. The new specimen is considered here as an adult individual. This is the first time that the postcranial remains of Tupa.navigans are described, also being an unprecedented record of an articulated tapejarid skeleton from the Araripe Basin.

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