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Found: An ancient flying lizard with a massive, sail-shaped crest

Scientific Research
Scientists uncover a flying lizard with an enormous, sail-shaped crest
An unprecedented fossil find in southern Brazil

Meet the Caiuajara dobruskii: one of the craziest extinct flying lizards you'll ever see. 

The newly discovered animal is a member of the order Pterosauria, a clade of flying lizards that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

Scientists are still not entirely sure what its wingspan looked like, but they say it was somewhere between 2 feet and 8 feet, depending on the age of the individual. 

As for that massive, sail-shaped crest -- I mean, what can you say? 

The discovery in what was once a desert in southern Brazil is remarkable not just because no one had ever seen a crest that size on a pterosaur before, but also because the researchers found hundreds of bones from at least 47 individuals of the same species within a 65-square-foot area.

It's kind of like they stumbled on a hidden Caiuajara city. 

If you're wondering if it is usual to find fossils from pterosaurs of the same species clumped together, the answer is a resounding no.

Pterosaur bones have been found on all the continents of the world, but never before in groups, according to a paper about the Caiuajara discovery published Wednesday in PLOS One.

Most previous pterosaur species have been described based on one incomplete specimen, the researchers found.

Here, the case was very different. They report that most of the Caiuajara fossils they found belonged to juveniles or adults, but there were a few bones from fully grown members of the species as well.

This age range allowed them to conlcude that the Caiuajara's massive crest grew over the animal's lifetime, although they are still not sure exactly what purpose it served.

And because juvenile skeletons were not that structurally different from adult skeletons, it is possible that Caiuajara babies were capable of flight from a very early age.

The fossils were found in what was once an inland lake in a desert. The researchers think it is possible that these crested flying lizards may have lived in colonies around the lake, or perhaps, if they were migratory, stopped there for water after long flights.

As for what killed them, the researchers still don't know -- desert storms and drought-related mortality are both possibilities. However, it should be noted that it does not seem that all the fossilized Caiuajara died at once, which suggests this area had been home to these flying lizards for a long stretch of time.

Science rules! For more like this, follow me @DeborahNetburn and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.


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