A new Brazilian carnivorous dinosaur has just “come out of the oven”. The species named Ypupiara lapoi is the first record of a dromeosaurid (or “common lizard”), a group of theropod dinosaurs that includes birds of prey, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the velociraptor.
The generic name comes from Tupi, meaning “someone who lives in water,” and the specific name is in honor of Alberto Lopa, who helped the first Brazilian paleontologist Llewellyn Ivor Price and found the material.
The discovery was described in this Thursday (5) issue of the British journal Papers in Paleontology, one of the most important in the field of paleontology. The work is a partnership of researchers from the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon Museum, the Federal University of ABC and the Geoscientific Museum of the Geological Survey of Brazil, also in Rio.
The fossil was found in the rocks of the Caiera site, Peirópolis region, near the municipality of Uberaba (MG), which is part of the Marília Formation, one of the most important sedimentary rocks of the Upper Cretaceous (between 72 and 66 million years old). in the country.
The examined material comprises two bone fragments, one from the jaw with teeth (upper part of the lower jaw) in the area of the snout and a piece from the lower jaw. However, with these tiny pieces of bone it was possible to identify the fossil as a dromaeosaur by comparing it to two other species recently found in Argentina: Austroraptor cabazai and Buitreraptor gonzalezorum.
“The anatomical set found in the fossil is unique and shows that it really is a new species for the location and also the first Brazilian dromeosaur,” said Arthur Souza Brum, lead author of the study.
Dromeosaurids are known from the mid-Jurassic to the late Cretaceous when they became extinct like other non-avian dinosaurs. These animals were small to medium in size, including some species up to 6 m in length, and lived on every continent except Antarctica, but very few fossil records have been found in South America, where they form a smaller group called unenlagíneos.
Since the two Argentine forms have a long, multi-toothed snout (a trait associated with a primarily fish-based diet) and the teeth are similar to those of Ypupiara, this is strong evidence of its classification as inenlagíneo. These animals are closer to other dromaeosaurs found in Asia, such as a species called Halszkaraptor escuilliei, which, according to the most recognized reconstructions, would have a size close to a swan or a goose and also had many teeth in its mouth.
In the case of Ypupiara, due to the reconstitution of the skull bones, its size is estimated to be 2 to 3 m. In addition to the size, the shape of the teeth, which are conical and without prongs, is another unique feature of this animal. The region of the Marília Formation in the Cretaceous Period was more humid, with rivers and probably resembled today’s Pantanal. “It would feed on fish, but not exclusively on fish, it would be similar to herons today: fish, small lizards, amphibians and other animals,” says Brum.
However, the story of the new dinosaur is curious to say the least. The material remained in the collection drawer of the Museu Nacional in Rio for almost 80 years without any guess as to which animal it belonged to. “The person who collected this fossil was paleontologist Llewellyn Ivor Price, sometime between the 1940s and 1960s, but he recorded it as an indeterminate vertebrate. We then started asking questions and comparing the tooth to everything we knew and that’s how we found it was a dromeosaur, ”said Brum.
It wasn’t a mere kick that helped figure out what the unknown animal was. At the time of Price there were no records of dromeosaurids in South America, it was not until 2005 that the two Argentine species that made it possible to unravel the mystery were described.
“Argentina is still investing heavily in science and especially in paleontology, despite the recent financial crisis. And of course the driest vegetation and the most desert-like climate [na região da Patagônia, por exemplo] promote the discovery of new fossils, ”said paleontologist Kamilla Bandeira, also one of the authors of the study.
Although it has remained unknown all along in a drawer in the museum’s collection, the relevance of the discovery extends beyond the group’s first record for Brazilian territory. The type material, which is also called the holotype, was unfortunately lost in the fire in the National Museum in 2018. Thus, the scientific article published today remains the only record of the animal available to the community.
For Rodrigo Pêgas, co-author of the study and PhD student at the National Museum, losing the holotype almost made the work not come out. “We did a lot of analyzes that we didn’t have time for. Fortunately, we were able to photograph this material in quotation marks and describe it, but how many weren’t so lucky? ”He asks with a choked voice and tears in his eyes and remembers the fire that shaped all researchers personally at the institute .
The tragedy that occurred at the National Museum has not yet been fully resolved, and the restoration of the collection is still being carried out by staff and volunteers. But it’s important to note that what happened is an example of how culture and collections should be valued, explains paleontologist Lucy Souza, who also participated in the study. “If we don’t care about our history, if we restore the culture every time instead of moving forward, we will stop being people who differ from other primates by zeroing the culture.”
For the paleontologist Alexander Kellner, director of the National Museum and who also participated in the study, the unknown whereabouts of the holotype after the fire is undoubtedly a sad event, but it does not detract from the work. “The young researchers here leading this work were able to milk a stone. I am proud of it, because it is a beautiful work that is accepted in a first-class magazine and provided with lost material. “
Kellner’s expectation is that more specimens of the animal will be preserved in the locality. “We have to step up the collection efforts in Brazil, only then will we be able to get a complete picture of the wealth of fossil species found in the country.”