Planet Earth

Pterrible Ptruth about Pterosaurs

By Hannah HoagNov 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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The elongated, frightening-looking skulls of some ancient flying reptiles really made them more menacing, allowing the animals to hunt for food without overheating under the Jurassic sun, say paleontologists Alexander Kellner and Diogenes Campos of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro. While digging in the Araripe Plateau of northeastern Brazil, Kellner and Campos uncovered the well-preserved skull of a previously unknown pterosaur, 110-million- year-old Thalassodromeus sethi (below). The insides of the cranial crest abound with fine grooves that resemble blood vessels; such a network would have been effective for transferring body warmth to the environment.

The huge crest, which stretches from the tip of the creature's beak to well behind the neck, the scissorlike beak, and the 15-foot wingspan of T. sethi conjure up an image of a flying devil swooping across the ocean in search of hapless prey, prompting the name Sethi, after the Egyptian god of chaos and violence. "We kept saying this creature was truly a vision from hell," Kellner says.

Photograph courtesy of Alexander Kellner.

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