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Death-spirit dragons stalked the ancient deserts of Brazil

One of my favourite parts of palaeontology is looking at how people choose to name newly discovered species. This is a core element of taxonomy, and understanding how many species exist or existed. Often though, the naming of a new species is simply based on a particular anatomical feature, or the location it was discovered.

But sometimes, researchers pull out a real treasure. Recently, a team of paleontologists from Brazil have discovered a new species of pterosaur. It was found near the town of Cruzeiro do Oeste, in Paraná State in Brazil.

This fossil locality is known locally as cemitério dos pterossauros; or, the cemetery of pterosaurs. What a hauntingly appropriate name for an ancient graveyard containing the fossilised remains of hundreds of the animals.

The newly discovered species has been named Keresdrakon. The first part of the word, Keres, comes from Greek mythology, and represents female death-spirits who personified violent deaths. The spirits also are associated with doom and plunder, and would fly over bloody conflict zones looking for the dying. Which is nice. The second part of the word, drakon, comes from the Ancient Greek for dragon or huge serpent. Overall, this brilliant name paints a gloriously horrific image in the mind.

Reconstruction of the paleoenvironment showing the possible interaction of the vertebrate fauna recovered from the ‘cemitério dos pterossauros’ site. Artwork by Maurilio Oliveira.

What is further interesting is that this is the first time that multiple species of pterosaur have been found together in the same geographic location. Another species called Caiuajara is known from many more fossils from the same place.

This represents a condition known as sympatry, and indicates that perhaps multiple species of pterosaur were able to live alongside each other in little ptero-communities.

100 million years ago, when these pterosaurs were still alive, Brazil was a vast, sandy desert. Perhaps here, pterosaur species were forced to live alongside each other in harmony, taking advantage of scarce water resources. Death-spirit dragons included.


KELLNER, ALEXANDER W.A., WEINSCHÜTZ, LUIZ C., HOLGADO, BORJA, BANTIM, RENAN A.M., & SAYÃO, JULIANA M.. (2019). A new toothless pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea) from Southern Brazil with insights into the paleoecology of a Cretaceous desert. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 91(Suppl. 2), e20190768. Epub August 19, 2019.


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