Cearadactylus is an extinct genus of medium-sized fish-eating pterosaurs that lived during the early Cretaceous period. It lived in what is now Brazil.
Cearadactylus had a wingspan of about 13ft, and weighed about 33 pounds. The fossil clearly shows long jaws with sharp teeth; the front of the snout, in particular, is built in a sort of "trap" formed by long teeth that intersected with each other.
It was named in 1985 by Giuseppe Leonardi and Guido Borgomanero. The genus links the name of the state of Ceará with the Greek daktylos, "finger". The name means "frightful" in Latin, a reference to the fierce teeth in the jaws.
The fossil comes from the Romualdo Member of the Santana Formation (110 million years old), and includes of a skull, 57 inches long, with lower jaws. First, the fossil was in Borgomanero's collection but is now at Brazil's Museu Nacional where the collection is included.
In 2000 Alexander Kellner found that Cearadactylus was related to, but lacked a crest of, the Anhangueridae in a larger Pteranodontoidea sensu Kellner. But, in 2002 David Unwin said it was a member of Ctenochasmatidae. In 2010 Kellner joined the new facts to three current databases of pterosaur traits, to work out the place of Cearadactylus in the phylogenetic tree. While the three resulting trees differed, all shared that Cearadactylus was close to the Anhangueridae.
This type of teeth would seem suited to hold slippery prey like fish: unlike other species of pterosaurs in the same field, like Anhanguera, Cearadactylus had a flat mouth and with no "bottoms" to cut through the water. Probably, like a huge albatross, the Cearadactylus flew over the seas of the Cretaceous waiting for the right time to dart its neck and hit like a spearfish swimming at the water. Cearadactylus's name means "finger of Ceara", and was given by Leonardi and Borgomanero in 1985. The skull, the only other fossils found so far, was found in the Santana formation of Araripe Plateau, in the Brazil. The genus name refers to the Brazilian state Ceará and combines this with Greek daktylos, "finger", a reference to the wing finger of pterosaurs. The specific name means "frightful" in Latin, a reference to the fearsome dentition.
The holotype is MN 7019-V (earlier CB-PV-F-O93), from the Romualdo Member of the Santana Formation. This fossil, a single skull with a length of 57 centimetres, was discovered on the Araripe plateau in northeastern Brazil. It was traded to Italy in 1983 and bought by Borgomanero for his collection. The skull is severely damaged, especially on the top, and was perhaps reconstructed by the fossil dealer.
As shown by a later preparation by the Brazilian Museu Nacional, in the first preparation many serious mistakes were made. The fronts of the snout and of the lower jaws were confused leading to a reconstruction in which the anterior part of the head was upside down. The teeth were extensively restored and enlarged until the wider front of the jaws showed very large and robust teeth projecting outwards, forming a sort of "rosette". This kinked upper jaw and its interlocking teeth suggested a piscivourous diet, allowing the animal to keep hold of slippery fish. No crests seemed to be present. The new preparation made clear that a crest was present on the snout and that the rosette was a lot smaller. Many details were discovered that were useful in determining the phylogenetic position of Cearadactylus.
The wingspan of Cearadactylus was by the describers estimated to have been around 4 metres (13 ft), with a weight of perhaps 15 kilograms (33 lb). Peter Wellnhofer in 1991 estimated a wingspan of 5.5 metres.
Leonardi did abstain from assigning the genus to a family. Wellnhofer created a special family Cearadactylidae, but this concept is no longer used. In 2000 Alexander Kellner concluded that is was related to, but lacking a crest not part of, the Anhangueridae within a larger Pteranodontoidea sensu Kellner. In 2002 David Unwin however stated it was a highly deviant member of Ctenochasmatidae. In 2010 Kellner entered the new information into three existing databases of pterosaur features, to calculate through cladistic analysis the position of Cearadactylus in the phylogenetic tree. Although the three resulting trees differed, all had in common that Cearadactylus was close to the Anhangueridae.
In 1993 Fabio Marco Dalla Vecchia named a second species, Cearadactylus ligabuei. The specific name honours Giancarlo Ligabue, the director of the Centro Sudi Ricerche Ligabue in Venice. It is based on holotype CCSRL 12692/12713, again a heavily damaged crestless skull, 403 millimetres long. The skull consists of two pieces, the front and the back part, glued together by fossil traders; it is uncertain whether they belong to the same individual or indeed to the same species. Dalla Vecchia was himself not convinced the new species in fact belonged to Cearadactylus, but the skull was not sufficiently unique to base its own genus on yet still too different from known species to be assigned to them, so he created a new species for the genus the fossil most resembled. Later authors have consistently denied the identity referring to the taxon as "Cearadactylus" ligabuei.
Dalla Vecchia estimated the wingspan at six metres; Kellner, pointing out that the skull is not larger than the C. atrox holotype, at five metres at the most. Dalla Vecchia assigned C. ligabuei to the Cearadactylidae. Kellner concluded it was probably a member of Anhangueridae; Unwin in 2002 even named it Anhanguera ligabuei. Steel e.a. (2005) suggested it was a Coloborhynchus ligabuei.
Cearadactylus in The Land Before Time
The only named Cearadactylus to be seen in The Land Before Time is Sierra, who appears in The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire alongside Petrie's uncle Pterano, and a sly Rhamphorhynchus named Rinkus. Rinkus and Sierra are maybe sharptooth flyers. A few children flyers which appear to be Cearadactylus can be seen in The Land Before Time XII: The Great Day of the Flyers near the end when Tricia fell into the water. However they do not have teeth like Sierra does.
- ↑ Unwin, D. M. (2002). "On the systematic relationships of Cearadactylus atrox, an enigmatic Early Cretaceous pterosaur from the Santana Formation of Brazil". Mitteilungen Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Geowissenschaftlichen Reihe 5: 1239–263.
- Leonardi, G. & Borgomanero, G. 1985, "Cearadactylus atrox November January, nov. Sp.: Pterosauria novo (Pterodactyloidea) from Chapada do Araripe, Ceara, Brazil", VIII Congress Resumos dos communicaçoes bras. Stratigraphy and Paleontology of 1983, 27, 75-80.
- Unwin, DM 2002, "On the systematic relationships of Cearadactylus atrox, an enigmatic Early Cretaceous pterosaur from the Santana Formation of Brazil", Mitteilungen Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Geowissenschaftlichen Reihe, 5, 239-263.