Sunday, September 6, 2015

Banguela: Beast of the Week

Banguela oberlii was a pterosaur that lived in what is now Brazil, during the early Cretaceous Period, about 110 million years ago.  Its wingspan is estimated to have been twelve feet long, although this is subject to change based on limited material.  The genus name, Banguela, translates from Portuguese to "Toothless One" in reference to the fact that this pterosaur had no teeth.  "Banguela" is a term used in Brazil to describe old ladies with no teeth.  It's also supposed to be affectionate.  (culture!) Banguela was likely a meat-eater when alive.

Life reconstruction of Banguela by Christopher DiPiazza.  I decided to depict it as a sort of opportunist predator, feeding on hatchlings of the prehistoric sea turtle, Santanachelys, which it would have coexisted with.

Published on just last year, Banguela is a mysterious pterosaur because very little of it was actually found.  In fact, the parts of it that paleontologists do have to work with entirely consist of part of the lower jaw.  That's it.  However, there is a LOT you can tell, if you know what you're looking at, going off even seemingly tiny bits of fossil material.  First of all, we know that Banguela most likely belonged to a family of pterosaurs called dsungaripteridae, based on the shape of the jaw and the fact that it slightly curves upwards as you approach the tip.  Other, more completely known dsungaripterids have mostly been found in Asia and are known for having robust teeth.  Banguela is especially interesting because it differs from the rest of the family in both of these ways by being South American with no teeth. The exact reasoning for this is still a mystery.

Banguela lower jaw from Haedden and Campos's 2014 paper.

Another thing to note about Banguela's jaw is that the tip of it is keeled, like a blade.  At first some might guess that perhaps Banguela was hunting marine prey and could fly close to the surface of the water with the tip of its lower jaw slightly submerged like a modern day Black Skimmer. (See video below) This idea is interesting but still maybe unlikely since an animal as large and heavy (relatively) as Banguela still might not be able to safely pull that stunt off.  If you don't know what I mean think of what a water ski wipeout looks like...That.

So if it wasn't skimming why did Banguela evolve such a unique beak?  Its relatives were using their teeth for feeding, so Banguela may have adapted to feeding on something specifically different.  Perhaps the lack of teeth was an adaptation to be lighter, and therefore be a better flyer.  It is possible Banguela was flying out to sea more often and for longer periods of time and a more narrow beak was better for grabbing soft-bodied prey off the surface of the water.  On the flip side, perhaps other dsungaripterids were the ones more adapted to a more specialized diet (crushing shelled animals perhaps) and Banguela evolved a more generalist approach to hunting.  We just don't know yet!

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Also special thanks to Jaime Haedden, who worked with and published Banguela.  You can check out his site right here.


Jaime A. Headden and Hebert B.N. Campos (2014). "An unusual edentulous pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous Romualdo Formation of Brazil". Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology.

Haedden, "An Edentulous Dsungaripterid? 10 Facts About Banguela." The Bite Stuff. N.p., 09 May 2014. Web.

Humphries, S., Bonser, R. H. C., Witton, M. P. & Martill, D. M. 2009. Did pterosaurs feed by skimming? Physical modelling and anatomical evaluation of an unusual feeding method. PLoS Biology 5

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