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Brazilian dinosaurs

A book tells the story of 21 species found in Brazil

FELIPE ALVES ELIASAn unnamed maniraptor species (right) and the Antarctosaurus brasiliensis: two dinosaurs from the Cretaceous periodFELIPE ALVES ELIAS

Newly launched, the book O guia completo dos dinossauros do Brasil [The complete guide to Brazilian dinosaurs] (Editora Peirópolis publishing house, 222 pages, R$62.00) introduces to the reader, in an educational form and using plenty of fine illustrations, 21 dinosaur species whose remainders were found in Brazil. The work was written by paleontologist Luiz Eduardo Anelli, a professor at the Institute of Geosciences of the University of São Paulo (IGc-USP). The probable shapes of the Brazilian dinosaurs were reconstituted based on an analysis of their fossil records, in a study bringing together science and art and produced by Felipe Laves Elias, himself a paleontologist.

The idea of writing the guide arose after Anelli had been the curator of the Dinosaurs at Oca exhibition, which drew 550 thousand visitors to Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo city, from December 2005 to February 2006. “People asked me many questions about dinosaurs in Brazil,” says the paleontologist. As a scientist, Anelli studies mollusks and shells from the Paelozoic and Cenozoic eras in Brazil and in Antarctica. These animals were already living on Earth long before the earliest dinosaurs came into being. As a disseminator of science, he is an expert in these mythical reptiles that appeared some 230 million years ago and disappeared mysteriously some 65 million years ago.

Some of the most renowned dinosaur fossils were found in Brazil, such as the Staurikosausus pricei, a fast carnivorous biped that could be as long as two meters, or the Saturnalia tupiniquim, a quadruped with a thick neck, of a similar size, which ate plants and small animals. Both lived approximately 225 million years ago, during the Triassic period, and their traces were recovered in the municipality of Santa Maria, in Rio Grande do Sul state. Here there were also huge animals, such as the titanosaur Antarctosaurus brasiliensis, an herbivorous quadruped that could reach as much as 40 meters in length and that lived in the São José do Rio Preto are of São Paulo state some 80 million years ago. Academics from all latitudes admire the remainders of these animals from this past, discovered in tropical lands, but few Brazilians are aware of their existence. The book intends to fill this gap. “I always try to provide the time, geology and biology contexts in which each species was found in Brazil,” states Anelli. In his book, the paleontologist draws a picture of the origins of life on Earth and the genesis, evolution and disappearance of the dinosaurs. The author also helps the reader to understand why birds are not the only descendents of the dinosaurs.

Book cover "O guia completo dos dinossauros do brasil"

DIVULGATIONBook cover “O guia completo dos dinossauros do brasilDIVULGATION

Comparisons with the important Argentine paleontology, which has already unearthed more than 110 species of dinosaurs, are also constant throughout the guide. According to Anelli, these are some of the reasons that explain the lesser occurrence of dinosaurs in Brazil: during the Cretaceous period, to which most of the known species of dinosaurs from both countries belong, the Argentine climate was more humid and suitable for animal and plant diversity. Finally, the current climate and geological conditions of the country bathed by the River Plate are better for the preservation of fossils in rocks. “The chief difference was really due to the natural conditions of our Cretaceous period, when the climate was semi-arid with only a small diversity of land animals as compared to Argentina at that time,” says Anelli.

The book is to be updated from time to time, as Brazil’s paleontology cannot stop producing new findings. Last month, a team from the Museum of Zoology at USP presented a new species of titanosaur, a 13-meter long herbivore that lived some 120 million years ago in Minas Gerais state. For the time being, it has been nicknamed Tapuiassauro, an extremely Brazilian name.