A Brazilian stem pteranodontid, and Brazil wants its fossils back!

Figure 1. The cf.Tupuxuara specimen is larger than sister taxa in the LPT.

Figure 1. The cf.Tupuxuara specimen is larger than sister taxa in the LPT.

cf.Tupuxuara (SMNK??? Elgin 2014, Early Cretaceous). Originally considered close to Tupuxuara, here this specimen nests between Eopteranodon and the base of the Pteranodontia. The metacarpals and antebrachium are relatively short. The large pentagonal sternal complex anchors large flight muscles. Distinct from the Pteranodontia, but like the Eopteranodon clade, the carpal and tarsal elements were not co-ossified. The ventral pelvis remained open, as in Eopteranodon and most tested nyctosaurids. In other words, this is NOT a female…necessarily.

Figure 2. Early Cretaceous cf.Tupuxuara from the Elgin 1914 dissertation. This taxon nests between the Solnhofen specimen B St 1878 VI 1 and Eopteranodontia + Pteranodontia in the LPT, far from Tupuxuara. Reconstruction from underlying in situ specimen from the Elgin 2014 dissertation available online.

Figure 2. Early Cretaceous cf.Tupuxuara from the Elgin 1914 dissertation. This taxon nests between the Solnhofen specimen B St 1878 VI 1 and Eopteranodontia + Pteranodontia in the LPT, far from Tupuxuara. Reconstruction from underlying in situ specimen from the Elgin 2014 dissertation available online. Missing parts filled in.

You might want to think of this pterosaur
as the first of the large Pteranodontia, still nesting with the Germanodactylus clade not leading to dsungaripterids, Shenzhoupterus and tapejarids, including Tupuxuara). Elanodactylus is another large member of this clade (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Subset of the large pterosaur tree (LPT) with the addition of cf. Tupuxuara apart from Tupuxuara and at the base of the Pteranodontia.

Figure 3. Subset of the large pterosaur tree (LPT) with the addition of cf. Tupuxuara apart from Tupuxuara and at the base of the Pteranodontia.

The Elgin 2014 thesis was completed in May 2014.
Just a few months earlier, in March 2014 a paper appeared in Nature entitled, “Brazil clamps down on illegal fossil trade.” The first sentence reads, “Thirteen people are scheduled to go on trial in Brazil for smuggling fossils out of the country, apparently to private collectors and to museums in Germany and the United Kingdom.” Do you think Dr. Elgin was worried? Evidently not. In his PhD thesis Elgin wrote, The large numbers of [Chapada do Araripe] specimens that at the time of writing lacked any full or proper description was one of the major influences in the creation of this body of work, creating a catalogue of fossils that increase our understanding of this enigmatic group and permitting ready access to photographs and descriptions for future workers.” And for making those images available, Dr. Elgin, thank you!

Dr. Elgin further notes
“Brazil has banned the commercial sale of all fossil originating from its territories since 1942.” Then concludes, “The pterosaurs described within this body of work are presented for the good of the scientific community. While discouraging illicit trafficking is to be encouraged, the fact that the featured specimens are interred within a registered museum, rather than ending up within a private institution as would have certainly been their fate otherwise, guarantees the continued and universal access to any and all persons, to the benefit of the international community.”

Worried about the loss of Brazilian fossils to German museums,
Brazilian paleontologist, Alexander Kellner, cites the loss of cultural heritage. On the other hand, English paleontologist, David Martill quips, Knowing “dodgy” people is the only way to get samples, because the DNPM ignores requests to dig.” Brazilian paleontologist, Max Langer says, “Fossils must be kept in the country to help to improve Brazilian science.” And he expects fellow researchers to hold Brazil’s laws in higher regard than the private collectors who also fuel the trade.

David Martill expressed more of his thinking
in this online report, “In an email interview, Martill said that he “doesn’t care a damn how the fossil came from Brazil”, because that is “irrelevant to the scientific significance of the fossil. I am critical of all laws that interfere with the science of paleontology; and blanket bans on fossil collecting are indiscriminatory and only hinder science, No countries existed when the animals were fossilized.”

Bottom line:
Firsthand access to fossils… can sometimes get you into trouble with Brazil. You can see how the side line up here, with Brazilians hoping to stop exports and Europeans hoping to continue exports.

More tomorrow
on the Elgin dissertation…

References
Elgin RA 2014. Palaeobiology, Morphology, and Flight Characteristics of Pterodactyloid Pterosaurs. Innaugural Dissertation. Zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde Fakultät für Chemie und Geowissenschaften Institut für Geowissenschaften Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Available online here.

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