A small extinct reptile shows that dinosaurs and pterosaurs evolved from different ancestors

The dinosaurs and the pterosaurs They are among the most popular extinct organisms in the animal kingdom. It is therefore important to trace their genealogy, which is still incomplete, as the fossil skeletons are gradually found and reconstructed over many years.

By the way, in an article in the magazine Nature This week, a scientific group led by Rodrigo Muller – from the Federal University of Santa Maria, São João do Polêsine, Brazil – describes a new one camp petitean old progenitor reptile the pterosaurs (the winged lizards that lived alongside the dinosaurs and roamed the skies for about 150 million years).

This camp petit is about 230 million years old and dates from the period triassicin Brazil, had prominent beak and claws. It is estimated that it was just over 1 meter long, no more than 30 centimeters tall at the waist and had a long tail. According to the paleontologists who are describing it, it could have weighed between 4 and 8 kilograms and most likely could climb trees. Unlike pterosaurs, this is couldn’t fly.

“We’re just beginning to see the true colors of these reptiles,” Mueller told SINC. He explains: “There are a few nine types of camp petites in the world (including the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Madagascar and Scotland)” and that “this new species” is presented as “one of the best preserved camp petids” and therefore “offers indications of form and proportions”. had this”small two-legged creatures“.

The discovery underscores that diversity this old group. According to the scientists, the diversity is so great and unexpected that it suggests that the lineage that gave rise to dinosaurs and pterosaurs experienced a first spurt of diversification before the establishment of the Mesozoic’s most famous reptiles.

Image of the skeleton and full-scale reconstruction of Venetoraptor gassenae. / Caio Fantini

Therefore, according to experts, the evolutionary success of pterosaurs and dinosaurs was the result of differing chances of survival within a broader range of ecological and morphological variations. Undoubtedly, the discovery of this evolutionary event sheds light on Triassic ecosystems.

His traces on the heirs

After their evolution in the Middle and Late Triassic (about 235 million years ago), dinosaurs and pterosaurs became the dominant life forms on land and Cretaceous (about 145, 145, 5 to 65.5 million years ago).

Recent discoveries have increased knowledge of their progenitors, but it is important to find material from this period that can still provide valuable information. Camp petids are indeed the flightless group closest known to the pterosaurs, although their The fossil record is sparseas recognized by the Principal Investigator.

The distinctive features of the Venetoraptor are its beak and large hands with claws like scythes.

When asked about the reasons for this deficiency, Müller explains: “Perhaps these animals were not so numerous.” However, there are also other factors that could influence the fossil record, such as the lifestyle of some species and the size of the specimens. However, he claims, “Lager petids are becoming increasingly common in the fossil record following intensive field research efforts.”

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Diversity deserves another baptism

In addition to the description of partial skeleton well-preserved form of the camp petides found, Müller and colleagues named it Venetoraptor gassenae. Venetoraptor combines the word hijacker (looter, in Latin) and the word Veneto, in reference to Vale Vêneto, a tourist town in the municipality of São João do Polêsine in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The specific name gases honors Valserina Maria Bulegon Gassen, one of the directors of the charitable foundation.

Camp petids were as morphologically diverse as Triassic pterosaurs and more diverse than Triassic dinosaurs.

Venetoraptor’s distinctive features are its beak and large hands claws as scythes, in the form of a scimitar (curved saber). These features suggest that the animal was highly specialized in its ecological niche, as the claws may have aided it in grasping prey or hard fruit, as well as in climbing.

The unexpected beak, similar to that of a bird of prey, predates that of dinosaurs by some 80 million years.

Fossil of ‘Venetoraptor gassenae’. / Janaina Brand Dillman

It is well known that beaks can have many other functions besides feeding, including sexual display, vocalization, and temperature regulation. In this case, the authors note that the role and evolutionary advantage of such a beak in Venetoraptor is unclear.

relationships to discover

The results show that camp petids were as morphologically diverse as Triassic pterosaurs and more morphologically diverse than Triassic dinosaurs.

It should be noted that the camp petids are not a family of current birds, although the occurrence of this extinct animal found in Brazil could raise doubts. “In fact, the similarities between Venetoraptor and birds are the result of the evolutionary convergence. Instead, Venetoraptor “It’s related to pterosaurs (which aren’t related to birds),” the author said.

As for the value of this type of research in paving the way for preserving biodiversity today, Müller asserts: “By studying the past, we can do this.” understand patterns which are repeated, e.g die out and its possible causes. Therefore, he concludes: “In order to look to the future, we must learn from the past.”

Mueller, R. et al. “New reptiles show that dinosaurs and pterosaurs evolved from different ancestors. Nature (2023)

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