Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth



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.

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In