|Name Meaning||“The Lord of the Ways”||Height||1.8-2.0 meters (5.9-6.56 feet)|
|Pronunciation||Tah-pay-ja-rah||Length||0.69 meters (0.75 feet)|
|Era||Mesozoic – Early Cretaceous||Weight||0.40-0.42 kilograms (0.88-0.92 lb)|
|Classification||Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea & Tapejaridae||Location||Brazil (South America)|
Having lived in Brazil during the Early Cretaceous period, the Tapejara is now an important genus in the Tapejaridae family.
Around 112 million years ago, when this creature roamed the Earth, Brazil’s territory was part of the Gondwana supercontinent.
As such, the lord of the ways, as the genus is often referred to, shared its habitat with many other creatures, including pterosaurs alike and dinosaurs.
But why is the Tapejara unique, and what was it like? Read on to find out!
Unlike other prehistoric creatures, the Tapejara is poorly known.
This creature was first described by Kellner based on an incomplete fossilized skull.
Later, Alexander Kellner was invited to study another skull, which was more complete this time, and a mandible.
Both contributed to the description of the poorly known species.
While Kellner worked on studying these fossils, others came around – the front end of the skull, a beak tip, a palate part, and the premaxillary crest.
Over the years, other elements of the postcranial skeleton were recovered, which helped scientists better understand this creature’s appearance and behavior.
Still, many of the discoveries are only scientific-related, as they focus on skull and bone structure, which isn’t of much interest to pterosaur enthusiasts as they do not directly indicate what the creature looked like.
As such, based on these discoveries and others concerning pterodactyloid creatures in general, here’s what we’d like to highlight about the Tapejara:
- The most notable characteristic of the Tapejara is the high sagittal crest located over the snout. Fossil discoveries revealed a posterior crest extension tapering at the rear of the skull.
- It features a front-parietal crest extending backward.
- Kellner suggested that the premaxillary sagittal crest, which goes high above the anterior part of the skull, might have had a thermoregulatory function. This is backed up by the fact that it was probably characterized by a high vascularization process.
- The skull is unusually short and narrow for a pterodactyloid.
- The lower jaw was toothless. The margins of the upper jaws were toothless as well. It is believed the front end of the upper jaw lacked teeth, too, but since that part was missing from the holotype, scientists weren’t sure of this.
- The front end of its jaws bent downward, and when the jaws were closed, not all parts were in contact. Only the pointed tips touched, thus leaving an oval gap.
- The Tapejara had a very pointed beak. The tip was likely pointing downward at an angle of 35 degrees.
- The neck vertebrae suggest a neck length of approximately 16 centimeters (6.3 inches), thus shorter than the skull.
- Based on the neck vertebrae, scientists suggest that the Tapejara had a wingspan of approximately 1.35-1.5 meters (1.47-1.6 feet).
- The total body length is estimated at roughly 0.69 meters (0.75 feet), while the weight was likely 0.40-0.42 kilograms (0.88-0.92 lb).
- The wings were very flexible, thus serving as aids in adapting to various flying conditions.
- Based on general pterosaur descriptions, we can assume that the hindlimbs of the Tapejara were strongly built and adapted for a vertical position when walking.
These discoveries prompted specialists to conclude that the Tapejara was likely much different than others of its kind.
It was rather small, had a short, narrow head, and had no teeth.
It lacked the long, pointed jaws adapted for a piscivorous lifestyle we can observe in other creatures alike, such as the Pteranodon.
It also didn’t have the broad mouth or few teeth characteristic of insectivores like Anurognathus or Batrachognathus.
So what did these creatures eat? Keep reading to find out!
Habitat and Distribution
The Tapejara was discovered in the Santana Group in northeastern Brazil.
More precisely, the fossils were recovered from the Romualdo Formation, which is part of this group.
The Santana Group was previously characterized as being part of the Araripe Basin.
When the Tapejara was alive, this territory was still part of the Gondwana supercontinent.
The territory is believed to have been a lacustrine to subtidal shallow marine environment.
Some scientists described two gymnosperms and one angiosperm that might have grown on that territory – Brachyphyllum, Podozamites, and Nymphyaeites.
Conifers and various types of ferns were likely common.
Other plants include nonmagnoliid dicotyledons, as well as monocotyledons and dicotyledons from the magnoliid grade.
However, these haven’t been fully confirmed to have grown where the Tapejara lived.
Various angiosperms and gymnosperms that produce fruits may have grown there as well.
Behavior and Diet
Studies show that the Tapejara was likely adapted for low-speed flights.
As such, they probably specialized in flapping and gliding.
It is believed that the Tapejara might have registered a cruising speed of 27 km/h (16.7 mph).
The crest was helpful for agile turns and mediating flight control.
The creature was also well-adapted to a smooth landing.
Specialists suggest that this pterosaur probably had a fast metabolism and could fly long distances.
They might have even engaged in migratory behavior.
The Tapejara was probably cathemeral, meaning it was active both day and night for short intervals.
If we guide ourselves by what is known about tapejarids in general, we can assume that the Tapejara was highly arboreal and featured curved claws.
However, we cannot confirm that this is 100% accurate.
As for the diet, more needs to be confirmed as of today.
Pterosaurs have historically been known to be piscivores, meaning they feed exclusively on fish.
Over the years, however, new paleontological discoveries showed that many pterosaurs were, in fact, terrestrial and could have been omnivores, insectivores, or carnivores.
Members of the Tapejaridae, which the Tapejara is also part of, are known to have been arboreal omnivores, occasionally feeding on small insects and crustaceans.
As scientists highlight, the Tapejara didn’t have the long pointed jaws and effective dentition characteristic of piscivorous pterosaurs.
As such, a piscivorous lifestyle is out of the question.
It also didn’t possess the broad mouth and pin-like teeth seen in insectivorous creatures, so the Tapejara didn’t rely on insects for survival.
So what did it eat?
Some specialists suggest it might have fed on carrion (dead animals).
Considering its pointed, hooked beak, similar to hawk or vulture beaks (carrion-eating birds), we cannot rule out the possibility that the Tapejara fed on dead dinosaurs.
Other specialists disapprove of this theory, suggesting that the high crest would have prevented them from ripping the meat off the carcasses.
Consequently, the Tapejara was probably a frugivore.
Considering that it is thought to have been able to climb trees or shrubs using its claws and that there was a gap between the jaws when the mouth was closed, a frugivory lifestyle is highly plausible.
Picking fleshy fruits would have been much easier due to these adaptations.
The crests also helped if they were used to separate the foliage and facilitate fruit access.
Very few details are known about the reproduction of pterosaurs.
However, scientists believe they reproduced by laying eggs, like dinosaurs and modern birds.
The first recovered pterosaur eggs had leathery shells similar to those of modern lizards.
Other studies suggest that these creatures buried their eggs upon laying.
Besides this, there’s evidence suggesting that, like dinosaurs and unlike modern birds, pterosaurs had two functional ovaries.
The young are believed to have depended on their parents, but only for a short period until their wings grew long enough and they could fly and care for themselves.
Some scientists believe this happened within days after hatching, although the growth rate varied between species.
Some pterosaurs are thought to have attained a growth rate of 130-173% during the first year, and the growth slowed down once they reached sexual maturity.
However, it remains unknown how much of this information applies to the Tapejara.
The Tapejara specimens might have been sexually dimorphic, as some scientists argue.
Males are thought to have been larger and possessed imposing crests.
Females, on the other hand, were probably smaller and didn’t have a distinctive crest.
Evolution and History
The full picture of pterosaur evolution remains a mystery.
Specialists couldn’t fully outline their ancestry since the oldest known pterosaurs were already adapted for flying.
Some suggest that they originate from archosaurs in the Archosauromorpha clade, and others argue that long-necked members of this clade, like tanystropheids, were their ancestors.
Later studies showed that pterosaurs were likely avemetatarsalians closely related to Scleromochlus.
More recent research suggests that pterosaurs were closely related to lagerpetid archosaurs based on their skull and forelimb anatomical similarities.
Either way, the genus we’re discussing today and its only species, Tapejara wellnhoferi, is classified under the Tapejaridae family under the Pterosauria order.
This family was named in 1989 by Alexander Kellner.
He also created the Tapejaroidea clade, which consisted of the most recent common ancestors of Tapejara descendants.
The Tapejara was subgrouped into the Tapejarinae subfamily.
The genus had previously consisted of two other species: Tapejaia imperator and Tapejara navigans.
However, later studies proved they were very different from the type species, Tapejara wellnhoferi, and were moved to other genera.
Interactions with Other Species
If we guide ourselves by what fossils were discovered in the Romualdo Formation, we’d assume that the Tapejara shared its habitat with the following creatures:
- Dinosaurs like Irritator, Santanaraptor, and Mirischia.
- Corocodylomorphs like Araripesuchus
- Pterosaurs like Anhanguera, Araripedactylus, Araripesaurus, Barbosania, Brasileodactylus, Cearadactylus, Santanadactylus, Tropeognathus, and Tupuxuara
- Sea turtles like Santanachelys and Araripemys
- Various fish species
Because the Tapejara was probably a frugivore, it likely didn’t have much competition from its peers, as most pterosaurs were either piscivores or insectivores.
However, the Tapejara also shared its habitat with theropods that might have preyed upon them.
For example, while the Irritator is believed to have been at least partly piscivore, paleontological evidence shows that an Irritator individual fed on a pterosaur.
Nevertheless, whether it killed the pterosaur or scavenged its carcass is unknown.
Since the discovery of Tapejara is a significant paleontological event thanks to the information carried by the fossils, the genus and its species are now an important piece of the world’s evolutionary history.
Its fossils represent an essential addition to what has been previously known about pterosaurs.
The Tapejara is a popular appearance in the world of entertainment as well!
ARK Survival Evolved players are probably already acquainted with this creature, portrayed in the game as a Cretaceous animal with a skittish temperament and a carnivorous diet.
Although some details of the portrayal, including the diet, are misleading, we cannot deny that this appearance brought the Tapejara to people’s attention!
The Tapejara lived approximately 112 million years ago in today’s Brazil. Its fossils were discovered in Santana Formation.
They carry significant pieces of information for paleontologists and prehistoric creature enthusiasts.
It was a pterosaur with a distinctive high sagittal crest that likely fed on fruits.
It was small compared to other pterosaurs but could fly well and climb trees.
Since the postcranial skeleton isn’t well-known, we hope that future paleontological discoveries will reveal more fascinating details about the Tapejara!
Is Tapejara faster than Pteranodon?
They likely moved and flew at a similar speed.
A study shows that the Tapejara had a cruising speed of 27 km/h (16.7 mph), while the Pteranodon had a flying speed of 28.8 km/h (17.9 mph).
Is Tapejara faster than Argentavis?
The Argentavis is faster than Tapejara, having had a cruising speed of 67 km/h (41.6 mph).