It had beak and claws at the same time: who was Venetoraptor, the strange reptile that won the cover of the journal Nature

It had beak and claws at the same time: who was Venetoraptor, the strange reptile that won the cover of the journal Nature

The Argentine Science -in particular paleontology- is today present on the cover of one of the specialized journals with the greatest impact in the world: Nature.

It’s because researchers from Conicet, the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, the Félix de Azara Natural History Foundation, together with colleagues from other countries, described for the first time a species that helps to understand The evolution and relationships between dinosaurs and pterosaurs, which were flying lizards.

In southern Brazil, fossil remains of a species of lagerpetide. It was unknown until now. They called him Venetoraptor gassenae.

The name combines the word “raptor”, which means “plunderer” in Latin in reference to its raptor beak and claw-like hands. Meanwhile, the word Veneto refers to “Vale Vêneto“, a tourist locality in the municipality of São João do Polêsine, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

In addition, the specific name honors Valserine Maria Bulegon Gassen, one of the main responsible for the foundation of CAPPA/UFSM in Brazil, where the fossil remains are located.

“If we think of a big family, Venetoraptor was also related to dinosaurs. It was not their ancestor, but they have been related: they are like very close cousins.”, he said to Infobae Dr. Fernando Novas, one of the Conicet scientists who participated in the research published today in Nature and in charge of the Laboratory of Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Vertebrates of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences Bernardino Rivadavia.

The first author of the study was Rodrigo Müller, of the Federal University of Santa Maria, in Brazil. Martín Ezcurra, Mauricio Garcia, Federico Agnolín, from the Azara Foundation and the Maimonides University, Michelle Stocker, from the Virginia Tech University of the United States, Marina Soares, Alexander Kellner and Sterling Nesbitt.

Venetoraptor was an unusual animal. “At the end of the snout, it had a beak like that of an eagle today. As hands, it had prominent claws with which it could have climbed trees,” Novas said.

It measured more than 1 meter in length, with a height of 30 centimeters to the hip. It had a long tail and would have weighed between 4 and 8 kilograms.

The copy of lagerpetide that they found and described was alive about 230 million years ago. Their discovery settled debates about the place of this group of animals in evolutionary history.

“The first fossils of lagerpetids were found in Talampaya, La Rioja, Argentina, in the 1960s. It was an unknown group. Then, others were identified in other parts of the world, and there was a debate about whether they were closer to dinosaurs or pterosaurs.” There are already nine species of lagerpetids in the world: the specimens were discovered in the USA. USA, Brazil, Argentina, Madagascar and Scotland.

In 2020 part of the team of researchers had studied and demonstrated (they also published it in Nature) that lagerpetids are the sister group of pterosaurs, and shared similarities throughout the skeleton.

Pterosaurs, which had membranous (and not feathered like birds) coexisted with dinosaurs, turtles, lizards and other animals 220 million years ago, and became extinct 66 million years ago. Their precursors, then, were the lagerpetids, although this group did not fly.

The researchers described A well-preserved partial skeleton of the lagerpetide. Its characteristics indicate that the animal was highly specialized in its ecological niche.

Its claws would have served to help it deal with prey or to climb. Its beak would have enabled feeding, sexual display, vocalization and temperature regulation.

What also surprised the researchers is the diversity of species. “There was a greater diversity of species prior to dinosaurs and pterosaurs than we imagined. It is fascinating to put the magnifying glass and build knowledge about an enormous diversity of groups and species that we are only now clarifying after decades of research supported by the Argentine State. These are results that have been and are valued by world science,” said Novas, who is one of the winners of the Konex Awards Diplomas of Merit in 2023 in the paleontology category.

The finding indicates that lagerpetids were as morphologically diverse as pterosaurs. They were also more morphologically diverse than dinosaurs. It means species diversity was already beginning to flourish in the precursors of dinosaurs and pterosaurs and was not something that arose solely after the origins of those two groups.

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