Without teeth, new Brazilian dinosaur surprises scientists; see images

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The animal belonged to a group whose most typical representatives are often compared to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, but its evolutionary trajectory has left it without a single tooth in its mouth — and, it seems, with a beak.

This is the paradoxical story of Berthasaura leopoldinae, Brazilian dinosaur of only 1 m in length that has just been presented to the public and the scientific community.

With an estimated age of about 70 million years, the animal’s almost complete skeleton was found in the rocks of the so-called Goio Erê formation, in the municipality of Cruzeiro do Oeste (PR). Research formally describing the new species is in the specialized journal Scientific Reports.

Signing the work are researchers from the National Museum of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and the University of Contestado, in Santa Catarina, who have already been studying the fossil fauna of the region (the site also revealed new species of pterosaurs, or flying reptiles ).

Marina Bento Soares, a paleontologist at the National Museum and co-author of the study, explains that the creature’s scientific name is a triple tribute: to pioneer biologist and feminist Bertha Lutz, who worked at the museum and died in 1976; Empress Leopoldina, wife of Dom Pedro 1º and holder of solid scientific training; and to the Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school, whose samba-plot at the 2018 Carnival was about the National Museum.

Because of the honorees, the researchers insisted on giving a feminine form to the species name in Latin —according to Soares, it is something quite rare in the scientific names of dinosaurs published until today.

On the one hand, the team hit the jackpot when they found such a complete skeleton, since most Brazilian species of theropods (the large group of carnivorous dinosaurs) are known only through sparse bones.

On the other hand, the peculiar features of the Berthasaura leopoldinae they gave them a headache when trying to decipher the animal’s kinship with other dinos, says Geovane Alves de Souza, also a researcher at the Museu Nacional and the first author of the study.

“The initial results of the analyzes indicated that the species could be an ornithomidimid”, he says, referring to the ostrich-like dinosaurs that are often seen running in the films of the “Jurassic Park” franchise. The problem is that the animals only occurred on the continents of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the Asian and North American territories.

A closer round of analysis took Souza out of this grip and clarified the mystery. For the researchers, the animal would actually be a noasaurid, a member of a subgroup of carnivores typical of the southern hemisphere.

Most of these animals have sharp predator teeth, but a species that lived in present-day China lost its teeth when it reached adulthood, and it is precisely with the adult forms of this species that the Berthasaura leopoldinae looked like.

But the specimen found in the interior of Paraná was still a calf, perhaps in “adolescence”, judging by the fact that several of its bones were not yet fully fused, as occurs in adult individuals. This suggests that the species was edentulous (a scientifically accurate term for “toothless”) throughout its lifespan.

Does that mean she had become a vegetarian? Not necessarily, as the branch of dinosaurs that gave rise to birds also progressively lost teeth and gained a beak, but many birds continue to eat insects or vertebrates.

“I tend to think he was a herbivore, Giovane thinks he could eat meat. It’s an open discussion,” says Alexander Kellner, director of the National Museum and also author of the research.

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