Varying ages of the newfound species, dubbed Caiuajara dobruskii, fill the rare boneyard, which was once part of a desert lake in the late Cretaceous period, about 100 million to 66 million years ago. With a wingspan of up to 7.7 feet (2.35 meters) C. dobruskii had a head that was shaped differently from those of other pterosaurs, including a bony protrusion in front of its eyes.
The discovery offers the “best evidence ever uncovered” that the extinct dinosaur-era animals, called pterosaurs, may have lived in colonies, said study author Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
It also offers a new window into how the animalsâ€”the first vertebrates to flyâ€”developed into adults.
Finding such an intact fossil site is unusualâ€”though pterosaurs were found on every continent, their fragile wing bones do not preserve well. What’s more, most pterosaur remains have been found near what was once oceans or lagoons, not desert.
“To be honest with you, when they first told me they had pterosaur bones, I was going, ‘Yeah, sure,'” Kellner said. But once he confirmed the bones, he was thrilled.
“To find part of what could be part of a [pterosaur] population is really splendid,” he said.