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Mass grave in lake bed reveals new species of flying dinosaurs

Upper arm and hands of Pterosaur specimen, a flying reptile is seen in the Dino Lab of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County on February 1, 2011.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Forty-seven skeletons of a new species of pterosaurs (flying dinosaurs) that lived some 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous period have been uncovered among thousands of bones at the bottom of an ancient Brazilian lake deposit on the outside Cruzeiro do Oeste in the southern state of Parana. It is the first time pterosaur bones were found so far south. All others have previously been discovered along the country’s northeast coastline.

"Most pterosaurs are known from ancient coastal or shallow marine deposits and the number of species that lived deep inside the continents is limited, particularly from desert environments," according to the report published in the Journal PLOS One.

Even more exciting is the fact that individuals found were in multiple states of development from very young animals to adults with wingspans of more than 6 feet across.

"This helps us to have a glimpse on the anatomical variation achieved by this species from young to old," noted lead researcher paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Brazil's National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The flying dinosaurs were also distinguished by large crests on their heads, which “grew in prominence as the animals matured.” The fact that so many fossils of the same species, dubbed Caiuajara dobruskii, were found together also indicates that they were a “social species, living and flying in colonies, developing flight from a very young age.” It also hints that there are probably a lot more to be found there, perhaps numbering in the hundreds.

The question is what killed them. While there is some speculation that they could have been overcome by terrific sand storms from time to time, there is also some evidence that some Caiuajara may have succumbed to drought conditions. What is clear is that they did not all die here at one time.