(ORDO NEWS) — Ancient reptiles 100 million years ago flew over the then blooming Atacama. A team of scientists led by Jhonatan Alarcón-Muñoz from the University of Chile has been searching for dinosaur remains for many years.
And now they have discovered a place that is difficult to call other than a cemetery – there were so many bones there. A scientific paper describing them is published in the journal Cretaceous Research .
The place where they made the discovery, called Cerro Tormento (Cerro Tormento) and is located in the mountains of Cerros Bravos (Cerros Bravos) in the northeast of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.
Scientists suggest that 100 million years ago, in the Lower Cretaceous period, this was a zone of the flooded at high estuary of the river, which is now called Quebrada Monardes (Quebrada Monardes).
In general, the climate of the Earth in the Mesozoic era was much warmer than today, so now the desert territories received more rainfall – and Atacama is no exception.
Excavations at Atacama. In the Cretaceous period, this area was much wetter
The bones belong to pterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs and fed by filtering water through long, thin teeth (but there were also toothless species). Although their fossil remains are infrequent, pterosaurs, according to researchers, were the most numerous winged vertebrates of the dinosaur era.
Most of the bones found are severely damaged – broken or flattened. Nevertheless, the Alarcon-Munoz group managed to find a sufficient number of remains suitable for analysis.
In the work, they describe four cervical vertebrae, one of which belongs to a small individual, as well as casts of bones related to the shoulder girdle, and casts of the left femur and tibia.
The remains examined belonged to Ctenochasmatidae ( Ctenochasmatidae ). This family of pterosaurs from the pterodactyl suborder differed from relatives in a large number of teeth.
Some of the bones are so well preserved that scientists have been able to trace their formation
The “cemetery” at Cerro Tormento is the second find of a significant number of Ctenochasmatid bones in the Atacama. Scientists suggest that these pterosaurs were widespread in the north of modern Chile in the Jurassic period (145-201 million years ago) and in the lower Cretaceous (100-145 million years ago).
The authors of the work also write that such a large accumulation of fossil remains in one place is evidence of the lifestyle of these reptiles: they lived in colonies.
The area in the region of today’s Atacama Desert was part of the Gondwana supercontinent until a certain point. It broke up only about 180 million years ago, splitting into Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica.
Although the newly discovered remains are more recent, it cannot be ruled out that pterosaurs could move between relatively close continents by air.
Jonathan Alakorn-Muñoz believes that further exploration of Cerro Tormento, the discovery of which is a huge rarity, will allow his group to learn new things not only about the anatomy of pterosaurs, but also to study their habits, find out how these animals formed colonies and nurtured (if nurtured) offspring.
Pterosaurs were the first group of vertebrates to adopt an aerial lifestyle. They had no competitors in the air for about 90 million years, until the appearance of apparently flying birds in the late Jurassic.
The earliest known remains of Ctenochasmatoids belong to the Late Jurassic Kimmeridgian Stage (from 150.8 ± 4 to 155.7 ± 4 million years ago). Today, paleontologists believe that most of them were aquatic or semiaquatic pterosaurs with large, webbed hind feet and a long torso – adaptations for swimming and soaring.
At the moment, several species of reptiles of this family have been identified. Some of them were predators, but most were filter feeders. It can be hoped that the find in Atacama will not only significantly expand our knowledge of ctenochasmatoids, but will also open up new species of pterosaurs of other families.
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