A new Brazilian carnivorous dinosaur has just “come out of the oven”. The species, named Ypupiara lapoi, is the first record of a dromeosaurid (or “runner lizards”) for the country, a group of theropod dinosaurs that includes raptors, the most famous of which is undoubtedly Velociraptor.
The genus name comes from Tupi and means “one who lives in the waters” and the specific name is in honor of Alberto Lopa, who helped the first Brazilian paleontologist, Llewellyn Ivor Price, and who found the material.
The discovery was described in this Thursday (5) edition of the British magazine Papers in Palaeontology, one of the most important in the field of paleontology. The work is a partnership of researchers from the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon Museum, the Federal University of ABC and the Earth Science Museum, from the Geological Survey of Brazil, also in Rio.
The fossil was found in the rocks of the Caiera site, Peirópolis region, near the municipality of Uberaba (MG), belonging to the Marília formation, one of the most important sedimentary rocks of the Upper Cretaceous (between 72 and 66 million years old) in the country .
The material studied includes two bone fragments, one from the jaw with teeth (upper part of the mandible) near the region of the snout and a piece from the lower mandible. With these tiny pieces of bone, however, it was possible to identify the fossil as a dromaeosaurid by comparing it with two other species recently found in Argentina: Austroraptor cabazai and Buitreraptor gonzalezorum.
“The anatomical set found in the fossil is unique and shows that it really is a new species for the locality and, more than that, the first Brazilian dromeosaurid”, said Arthur Souza Brum, first author of the study.
Dromeosaurids are known from the middle of the Jurassic to the late Cretaceous, when, like other non-avian dinosaurs, they became extinct. These animals were small to medium in size, including some species up to 6 m in length, and lived on all continents except Antarctica, but there are very few fossil records in South America, where they form a smaller group called unenlagíneos. .
As the two Argentine forms have a long snout with many teeth (a characteristic associated with a mainly fish-based diet) and the teeth are similar to that of Ypupiara, this is strong evidence in favor of its allocation as an unenlagíneo. These animals would be closer to other dromaeosaurs found in Asia, such as a species called Halszkaraptor escuilliei, which according to the most accepted reconstructions would have a size close to a swan or a goose and also had many teeth in its mouth.
In the case of Ypupiara, its size is estimated between 2 m and 3 m, based on the reconstitution of the skull bones. In addition to size, the shape of the teeth, which are conical and without serrations, are other unique characteristics of this animal. The region of the Marília formation in the Cretaceous period was wetter, with rivers, and probably resembled what is now the Pantanal. “It would feed on fish but not exclusively on fish, it would be similar to herons today: fish, small lizards, amphibians, among other animals,” says Brum.
The story of the new dino, however, is curious to say the least. The material remained in the collection drawer of the Museu Nacional in Rio for nearly 80 years without any guesses as to which animal it belonged to. “The one who collected this fossil was paleontologist Llewellyn Ivor Price, sometime between the 1940s and 1960s, but he recorded it as an indeterminate vertebrate. We then started to ask questions and compare the tooth with everything we knew and that’s how we saw that it was a dromeosaurid”, said Brum.
It wasn’t the mere kick that helped determine which was the unknown animal. At the time of Price, there was no record of dromeosaurids in South America. It was only in 2005 that the two Argentine species that made it possible to unravel the mystery were described.
“Argentina, despite going through a recent financial crisis, still has a strong investment in science and especially in paleontology. And, of course, the driest vegetation and the most desert climate [na região da Patagônia, por exemplo] favor the discovery of new fossils”, said paleontologist Kamilla Bandeira, also one of the authors of the study.
Despite having remained unknown for all this time in a drawer in the museum’s collection, the relevance of the discovery goes beyond being the group’s first record for the Brazilian territory. The type material, which is also called the holotype, was unfortunately lost in the fire that hit the National Museum in 2018. Thus, the scientific article published today remains the only record of the animal available to the community.
For Rodrigo Pêgas, the second author of the study and who is doing his doctoral research at the Museu Nacional, the fact that the holotype was lost almost prevented the work from being published. “We were doing a lot of analyzes that we didn’t have time to complete. Fortunately, in quotes, we were able to photograph and describe this material, but how many were not so lucky?”, he asks, with a choked voice and tears in his eyes, remembering the fire that also left personal marks on all researchers at the institution.
The tragedy that took place at the National Museum has not yet been fully accounted for, and the recovery of the collection is still carried out by employees and volunteers. But it is important to note that what happened leaves an example of how culture and collections should be valued, explains paleontologist Lucy Souza, who also participated in the study. “If we fail to take care of our history, if we restore the culture each time, instead of progressing, we will stop being human beings, different from other primates, in zeroing the culture.”
For the paleontologist Alexander Kellner, director of the National Museum and who also collaborated with the study, the unknown whereabouts of the holotype after the fire is undoubtedly a sad event, but it does not detract from the work in any way. “The young researchers here who are spearheading this work were able to milk a stone. I’m proud of them, because it’s a beautiful work, accepted in a top-notch magazine, and with lost material.”
Kellner’s expectation is that more specimens of the animal are still preserved in the locality. “We need to increase collection efforts in Brazil, only then will we be able to have a complete picture of the richness of fossil species found in the country.”