Researchers have released the description of a new dinosaur species, dubbed Berthasaura leopoldinae. Small-sized—approximately one meter long—it lived in the Cretaceous period, in the modern-day municipality of Cruzeiro do Oeste, in Paraná state, Southern Brazil.
The article with the description was published today (Nov. 18) in scientific journal Nature.
The skeleton of the Berthasaura leopoldinae was found during excavations conducted by paleontologists from the Paleontology Center of the University of Contestado (Celempao) and the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), in a section of a country road in Cruzeiro do Oeste.
“Over the last decade, dozens of fossils were collected in this region, which led to the description of new species, particularly the pterosaur. This new dinosaur discovery, the second in the area, shows the importance of the fossiliferous site we call the Cemetery of Pterosaurs,” said Celempao geologist Luiz Weinschütz, who coordinated the excavations.
“The fossil materials are very well preserved. As a result, they have provided a lot of important information on this ecosystem, a veritable oasis in the middle of a Cretaceous desert,” said researcher Everton Wilner, also from Celempao. The age of deposits is still disputed, and should be pinpointed somewhere between 70 and 90 million years.
Most dinosaurs found in Brazil are divided into two major groups: sauropods and theropods. Berthasaura is a theropod belonging to Abelisauridae, a vital component of faunas in the Southern Hemisphere from the Cretaceous period, said National Museum Director Alexander Kellner, who took part in some excavations in Cruzeiro do Oeste and is among the authors of the article.
“We have the remains of the skull and the jaw, the spine, the pectoral and pelvic girdles, and upper and lower limbs, which makes Bertha one of the most complete dinosaurs found in the Brazilian Cretaceous.” However, Kellner said, what makes this dinosaur genuinely rare is the fact that it is a toothless theropod, the first to be found in the country.
To confirm this condition is true, a study was carried out at the Nuclear Instruments Laboratory of Coppe/UFRJ using computed microtomography. “To apply techniques that are common in other fields of research in fossils, like tomography, is something that’s fascinated us a lot,” said Laboratory Coordinator Professor Ricardo Tadeu Lopes.
Geovane Alves Souza, PhD student in Zoology at the National Museum/UFRJ, who developed the research as part of his PhD thesis, stated that “Berthasaura does not have teeth, nor does it show any sign of tooth-bearing cavities (alveoli) in the lower jaw and the maxilla, and the microtomography of the lower jaw confirmed that it was not an artifact of preservation, but a feature of this new dinosaur.”
The researcher added that marks and grooves suggest the presence of a horny beak (keratin), similar to that of present-day birds. “It is hard to confirm whether Berthasaura may have used its beak to tear chunks of meat—as hawks and vultures do today—or whether the beak was used to cut vegetable material. Living in a restricted area, like the desert, this dinosaur was likely to feed from whatever was available, and probably developed an omnivorous diet.”
A threefold tribute
The name of the dinosaur is a triple tribute, researcher Marina Bento Soares pointed out. “Bertha refers to professor and researcher Bertha Maria Júlia Lutz (1894–1976), biologist at the National Museum/UFRJ and one of the main leaders in the fight for the political rights of Brazilian women.”
“Leopoldinae,” in turn, the researcher added, is a tribute to both Brazilian Empress Maria Leopoldina (1797–1826)—who was a great enthusiast of natural sciences and one of the most important people in Brazil’s independence—and to the Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school, who paid an homage to the National Museum as the theme of its parade at the Marquês de Sapucaí sambadrome in 2018.
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