We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More


Nov 1, 1997 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:52 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

When he first saw pictures of this unusual fossilized pterosaur skull from a private collection, Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, didn’t think it was real. But once he had the 115-million-year-old slab of limestone (below) in his hands, he knew he was looking at a unique creature. Tapejara imperator, a Tupi Indian-Latin hybrid name meaning the old emperor, had a gigantic crest that took up five-sixths the area of the pterosaur’s nearly three-foot- long, three-foot-high skull. No bird, no dinosaur, no pterosaur has a crest with those proportions, says Kellner. It is like a sail on its skull. The crest, which consisted of soft tissue, rises out of a bony ridge in the center of the pterosaur’s skull. Kellner wonders how the extravagant crest, which may have been a sexual display, affected the aerodynamics of T. imperator. That structure most certainly is a problem, he says. If you want to fly, you try to avoid having structures in your way. If you want a steering mechanism, you want it on the back of the skeleton, like a tail. You may also have a crest, but just on the back part of the skull and very low. Tapejara imperator did exactly the contrary.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.