Tapejara: Brazil’s Flying Pterosaur

Over these last two weeks, we’ve explored the history of Japanese art, from the very first recorded artworks on the island all the way up to modern day. If you’re interested, you can read part one here, part two here, and part three here. But now that our journey into Japanese history has come to an end, we’re going to change tracks and learn about a prehistoric flying reptile: Tapejara.

Tapejara Model Tapejara was a pterosaur which lived about 120 to 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. Its name means “old being” in the Tupi language, of the Tupi people of Brazil. Discovered in that country in 1980, this flying reptile was likely very colorful and had a large crest on top of its head. While standing, it was approximately 5 feet tall, but had a wingspan of more than 10 feet wide. Despite this impressive size, Tapejara would have been very light, no more than 80 pounds. This is because, like with modern birds, their bones were lightweight and hollow to allow for flight.

 

Tapejara FossilThe most common theory is that Tapejara was a piscavore: they ate exclusively fish. The shape of the beak contributes to this hypothesis, as it shows a strong resemblance to that of a pelican. It is very possible that the pterosaur flew down over the water and scooped up fish as it went. Some scientists are not convinced of this theory, however, and instead posit that Tapejara was a scavenger and fed on the prey of other predators they found.

Also like many modern birds, and some reptiles, as well, it is highly plausible that Tapejara operated in shorter, irregular bursts of activity throughout the day. The area around their eyes are remarkably similar in the bone structure, which hints at this type of irregular activity, called being cathemeral.

 

Tapejara SkeletonThe front limbs of Tapejara were large and strong. While on the ground, they would have adopted a quadripedal stance, like other pterosaurs. When it was entering into flight however, it is believed that they could have pushed themselves up into the air with their front limbs rather than jumping from an edge or taking a running start.

 

 

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