Category Archives: News and Exhibits

Exhibits and other news about the Imaginary Pterosaur project

All posts in chronological order

I generated a raw printout of all the posts that were published in this blog so far in PDF. It’s a big 383MB file with 584 pages, but the posts are in chronological order, which makes them easier to read. I also generated bookmarks. You can simply click the image below which is a link to the file.

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The pages were simply printed in PDF using Firefox and has a minor bug (a “follow” link which sometimes overlaps images and text). I also tried in Chrome, Safari and Opera, but their bugs produced empty pages or weird image scaling. Links and videos obviously don’t work, but it should be easier to browse, search and read sequences of posts.

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Imaginary Pterosaurs at the 24th Brazilian Paleontological Congress


Since no new new pterosaurs were made since 2013, there haven’t been many new posts (only one or two per year). But now I have news since I just returned from the 24th Brazilian Congress of Palaeontology, which happened in Crato, Brazil.


Crato is situated in the Araripe basin, one of the most important paleontological sites in the world and where most of the Brazilian pterosaurs were discovered. It’s also one of the most important pterosaur sites and where the most well-preserved specimens were found. Most of the pterosaurs skeletons and skulls I made were based on species that were found in the Araripe basin: Tapejara, Tupuxuara, Tupandactylus, Caupedactylus and Anhanguera were all discovered here.

It was the second time a national paleontological congress happened in Crato (there is one every two years). During a week, palaeontologists from several parts of Brazil and from other countries participate in technical sessions, poster sessions, round tables, tutorials and other presentations, as well as field trips and social events. One of the nights there was a concert by a band called Pterorock, which played rock classics as well as versions of popular songs with original lyrics inspired by palaeontology.


During the congress I displayed my Tupuxuara leonardii skeleton and several pterosaur skulls. They all traveled safely in this big box made for the Tupuxuara. No bones or teeth were broken during the flights.


Tupuxuara was assembled inside a soccer goal and became a main attraction in the event. Everybody wanted to take a picture with it.




During the event I conducted a 3-day, 12-hour paleoart workshop for 15 participants, where I shared all I learned about making bone replicas from XPS foam. Here are some pictures from the workshop:















The results were impressive. The participants worked hard and despite the very short time we had (not enough for the glue and the paint to dry) some very nice replicas were created. Here are some of the replicas created by the participants after three days:








We also had a lot of attention from the local media and appeared twice in TV (in Portuguese):



I gave a short presentation about the techniques I use during the technical sessions, describing the materials and techniques I use. The slides are in Portuguese and can be downloaded via SlideShare. I will translate this presentation later and publish it here as soon as I have some time.

The event finished on Thursday and on Friday I traveled with a group on a field trip to the most important sites of the Santana Formation. We started with a limestone mine in Nova Olinda (Crato formation), where it’s practically impossible to not find any fossils.


These are just a few of the Dastilbe fish fossils I found:


There are so many fossils that you find them even in the walls and floors of houses, shops, hotels and restaurants, in many of towns of the Araripe region:


We then went to the Parque dos Pterossauros (Pterosaur Park – part of the Araripe Geopark). It’s an excavation in Santana do Cariri (Romualdo Formation). Here the fossils are safely protected inside limestone nodules.


The paleontological museum in Santana do Cariri has a very interesting collection of fossils from the area: lots of plants, invertebrates, fish and pterosaurs. It’s definitely worth a visit. There were pterosaur fossils there that I’ve never seen anywhere before.








This was just one of the many trips that happened during the congress. Other groups visited many more sites of the Araripe Geopark. It’s a beautiful region definitely worth a longer visit.


Now the pterosaurs are back home until the next event. Tupuxuara is once again hanging in my living room, but in a different position. This is how Tupuxuara was displayed before we flew to Crato:


And now I assembled it in a landing position:


And that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have a new pterosaur to recreate soon, and should post more often.

PS.: I had also planned to show up this year with my pterosaurs at the Flugsaurier 2015 in Portsmouth, UK, but my strategy to pay for the trip (selling a pterosaur skeleton) didn’t work, and my savings (plan B) were significantly reduced after the devaluation of our local currency, so unfortunately it’s not this time that Tupuxuara will travel to the UK.

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Making of Tapejara wellnhoferi

This presentation describes in 60 pages the process of making Imaginary Pterosaur #7 Tapejara wellnhoferi. It contains more images than text and is a concise graphical version of the blog posts that describe the process. Click on the image below to download it.


This is a 93MB PDF so it might take some time to download.

See also: Making of Tupuxuara leonardii (April 2013) and O Pterossauro Imaginário: pesquisa, construção e montagem (in Portuguese, July 2012)

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A Tapejara in the museum

After a long time without any posts, I’m back with news. The Tapejara wellnhoferi replica I made a year ago was finally placed in a public exhibition hall at the Peiropolis Dinosaur Museum, in Uberaba, MG, Brazil. It spent the last year locked up in a lab. I returned last week to make some improvements and to help install it.

The museum is actually a complex consisting of several buildings, a park, research labs. It’s situated in a small village. The old train station also became a museum which contains dinosaur bones, and dinosaurs walk around freely in the park, as you can see in this photo.


The pterosaur was left suspended in a temporary structure. I didn’t have to take it apart. One of the fixes I had planned was to remove the sternal ribs from the gastralia, since there was no scientific evidence to support it (I had initially used it to help shape the abdomen, but in the end I didn’t remove it.)


So here I cut the sternal ribs that were connecting the dorsal ribs to 4 gastralia bones.


It didn’t look nice, so I decided to remove those gastralia bones as well, leaving only one which is attached to the pre-pubis. This is the final result:



I then proceeded to remove the excess rubber that accumulated in the joints because of the silicone rubber I used to attach them. I had to use scissors and a knife, and it took several hours.


Finally, I coated the whole skeleton with matte varnish. The protective epoxy coating, epoxy connections and silicone rubber made it was too shiny as you can see here (before applying matte varnish):


The coating reduced the glow a significant amount. I also darkened the bones near the joints to increase the bone contrast.


The skeleton had to be placed in the main exhibition hall, which has a lot of external light, inadequate lighting, an aluminum ceiling 6 metres above and three giant replicas. The Tapejara practically disappeared among them.


The skeleton was suspended from an aluminum structure made from antenna cylinders. That structure hung from the ceiling. I used thin wire and safety pins to connect the skeleton to the nylon fishing lines that were used to suspend the skeleton. Paleontologist Agustin Martinelli bravely climbed the six metre tall ceiling, crawled over the thin aluminum surface and attached the structure in place. 

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Try to find the Tapejara among the other monsters.

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Here are some photos of the final result.

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Here you can see the antenna structure that suspends the 300gram skeleton.


I made a presentation describing the entire process of researching, designing, building and installing the Tapejara. I will publish it here soon in the next post.

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Assembling Tapejara wellnhoferi

This weekend I traveled to Uberaba, MG, Brazil, where I installed this replica of a Tapejara wellnhoferi. I traveled with more than 190 individual unassembled bones. Arriving there I had three days and a half to put them together and assemble a Tapejara wellnhoferi pterosaur in a flying position. All the 196 bones are in this 16×23 cm box.

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The skeleton was installed in a museum which is part of a cultural and scientific complex in the town of Peirópolis. It will be displayed in one of the museums in the complex.

Peirópolis is a small town located 20 km away from the city of Uberaba (pop. 300 000) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The whole area is situated over a geological formation from the late Cretaceous and contains several paleontological sites where hundreds of fossils, mostly reptiles, were found.  The Peiropolis Dinosaur Museum (Museu de Dinosauros) is part of a scientific and cultural complex (Complexo Cultural e Científico de Peirópolis – CCCP) which also includes a research center (Centro de Pesquisas Paleontológicas Llewellyn Ivor Price) and another smaller museum installed in an old train station. The complex is administered by the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro (UFTM).

The smaller museum contains only species which were found locally; another contains replicas and fossils from other parts of the country. This Tapejara is the first pterosaur that will be on display in the complex.

Besides installing the Tapejara, I also gave a small workshop showing how I researched, planned and created the individual bones from sheets of foam, demonstrating the techniques and materials used. In the end, I recycled a small tray by cutting two pieces to make a Tapejara humerus.

Assembly took me 3 and 1/2 days. It took long because I used silicone rubber to attach the bones together and its only completely dry in 24 hours (before that it gets gradually stronger, but it may tear easily.) I also used part of the first day to photograph each of the bones and weigh them. The whole collection weighs only 300 grams!

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But before turning those bones into a Tapejara, I decided to turn them into a fossil first. This is a representation of the limestone slab which contains one of the most complete specimens: SMNK PAL 1137 (see “Eck et al, 2011, On the osteology of Tapejara wellnhoferi …”). The actual slab contains bones from three individuals, but I only have one so there are some bones missing. Anyway, here is SMNK PAL 1137 assembled with replicas of bones from one Tapejara:


I started with the head (I used some of these pictures to illustrate the previous post). The neurocranium is attached dorsally to the upper crest (with silicone rubber “cartilage”, but shown below with pins) and at the anterior part of the orbits through the lacrimal bone (shown detached in the next two pictures, and attached with silicone rubber and two pins in the third).

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The spine has a long rubber tube acting as a medulla. Here is the Tapejara with an assembled skull and spine (cervicals, dorsals, sacrum and tail). The quadrate bones, that articulate with the jaw, are shown below beside the skull and were not attached yet.

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The next step is the assembly of the pelvis. Each bone was attached with silicone rubber, keeping it firmly in place while allowing some elasticity between the bones. Silicone rubber acts like cartilage. Below are some photos of the complete pelvis showing the sacrum, gastralia, pre-pubis, pubis, ischium and ilium (preacetabular and postsacetabular processes).

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I was hosted by friends in Uberaba, and hanged the skeleton every night in my bedroom window. This is my window after the first day.

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On Saturday I returned to the museum and assembled the feet, legs, part of the wings and part of the pectoral girdle. Here’s a pair of Tapejara feet. The bones are firmly attached but they retain some flexibility. You can pass your fingers between Tapejara’s toes.

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My table of bones.

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Here are some views of the skull after I attached the mandible. The pins are holding it closed because I only added silicone rubber to the joints. When the silicone dries, the weight of the lower jaw should keep the mouth slightly open.

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It’s easier to work on the ribs by hanging the skeleton. I attached practically all the ribs and the sternum (through four pairs of sternal ribs).

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And this is my window after day 2.

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On day 3 I occupied the kitchen at my friends’ place, and finally finished the pectoral girdle, connecting the vertebral ribs to the sternal ribs, and to the sternum and gastralia.

I didn’t use cartilagenous connections from the posterior vertebral ribs to the gastralia, nor did I leave them floating in the air. I used thin sternal ribs as placeholders since I had some spare ones. My intention was to remove them later, when the abdomen had dried and was strong enough, and replace them with pure cartilage to connect to the gastralia, but I forgot to do so. It’s not completely inaccurate the way it is (no fossil evidence against it – but perhaps the “floating ribs” should be smaller). Anyway, I can consider fixing that when I return to Uberaba and have an opportunity to review the replica.

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Here is a view from the front showing the scapulocoracoid.

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The limbs are almost done. This photo was taken just before connecting the carpals and fingers.

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Oh, and this is Samuel – a Felis catus. He is always with me in the kitchen observing the Tapejara wellnhoferi. It probably looks like a big tasty bird for him.

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Here is the finished Tapejara body. As you can see I used “sternal” ribs to connect gastralia (the last three ribs) to the vertebral ribs.

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There is not enough space on this table for a pterosaur.

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Almost done. Now some fingers.

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A pterosaur hand. That long fourth dactylus is the pterus 🙂

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And this is the end of day 3. All the small parts assembled into larger ones. I arrived in town with 196 parts, now I have six parts hanging in my window. I couldn’t assemble it all because it woundn’t  fit in the car.

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Monday morning. Tapejara for breakfast.

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This is my host Regis. He is a musician and plays the guitar in a heavy metal band. This time, instead of a guitar, he holds a Tapejara. And the cat on the couch is one of the daughters of Samuel the cat.

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Samuel was watching the skeleton on the kitchen table a while ago.

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Finally assembling the Tapejara at the Peiropolis Dinosaur Museum. It will stay in this room (which contains several skeletons that are not yet on display) until it is installed. Here I hanged the body, head, a leg and a wing.

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And this is the final result.

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Hmmm… It might need some chiropractic therapy for that scoliosis.

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Looks good, but the posture is still not right.

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That’s not a good posture for the neck!

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It should be facing down slightly. Like this.

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Now it’s much better.

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And that’s it! Now there is a Tapejara in the Peiropolis Museum. It will still receive a coating of matte varnish, and then it will be displayed in the main hall of the museum, near the big dinosaurs. If you ever go to Uberaba, check it out!

As in any project like this, there are some adjustments that can still be made, improvements in posture and eventual fixes that might have to be done in the future. If I have the opportunity to do so, I will review the replica next time I am in Uberaba. Some improvements that may be done very easily include 1) straightening the gastralia axis (it’s making a curved line), 2) reducing slightly the curvature of the back (it should be curved, but perhaps it was too much – that might be causing the curvature in the gastralia axis), and 3) removing sternal ribs connected to gastralia (or maybe simply trimming them).

This was the Imaginary Pterosaur #7: Tapejara wellnhoferi, the first one I made for a museum. It was commissioned work and I started it two months ago, working on it about half of that time, traveling with it and working on it in different cities. Although I made all the bones by myself, I had help from many people. First of all I would like to thank the paleoartist Rodolfo Nogueira for introducing me to the director of the Peirópolis Cultural and Scientific Complex, Vicente Antunes, who had told him that he wished to have a pterosaur on display in the museum; the staff at the museum and UFTM, specially the researchers Thiago Marinho and Agustin Martinelli, who first contacted me and led the process that allowed me the opportunity to create this replica for the museum. Several other researchers helped me with photographic sources, articles and paleontological information: Hebert Bruno Campos, Felipe Pinheiro, and specially Brian Andres who gave me access to many photographs and measurements that were critical to the accuracy of this replica. Finally I must thank the family who hosted me in Uberaba: Alípio, Regis, Ludmila and Lucia (and their many cats) for their fantastic hospitality, for dedicating time and effort to make my stay as comfortable as possible, for driving me to Peiropolis and back (40km!) and even letting me occupy their kitchen table during three days, turning it into a pterosaur assembly lab! 

Now I will stop making pterosaurs for about a month and a half because I will travel to Europe (Spain, Portugal, England and Russia). When I return, I will probably start Imaginary Pterosaur #8.

I will publish one more post on Tapejara with statistics (weight, dimensions) and links to pictures of all the parts.

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Tapejara’s dorsal vertebrae

Here is a picture of Tapejara compared to an unknown thalassodromid comparing skull and neck. 2013-07-16 12.45.53

But this post is about the vertebrae that come after the neck: the dorsal vertebrae. The first four to seven of these vertebrae is fused in most adult pterosaurs to support the pectoral girdle and is called the notarium. There is no fossil evidence that this occurred in Tapejaras, but none of the specimens used are considered “full grown adult” either (I’m referring to the ones that were published). Some decisions that affected the dorsals also involved the cervicals, so I might also talk a bit about them here.

I had some trouble with my sources. I used the same ones I had used for the cervicals, but several images published in the article about SMNK PAL 1137 had the wrong scales, so the sizes didn’t match. Not even the reconstructions using the bones from the same specimen matched, and the descriptions confused me more than they helped, so I had to rely on other sources. MN 6588-V has several dorsal vertebra but it’s not really a tapejara, and it also has an incompatible scale: if I match the size of the cervical vertebra in that specimen, all the others become too small.

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So I decided to trust the scale I was originally using (from IMCF 1061) which unfortunately has no dorsal vertebrae, and to estimate the size based on Tupuxuara. The problem is that Tupuxuara’s cervical vertebrae are proportionally shorter, and so is the pelvis, so maybe the Tapejara has a narrower and longer body than the Tupuxuara, or maybe it just has a proportionally longer neck. I don’t know.

I checked other reconstructions (drawings and sculptures), but they seem to either have fewer cervicals, or identical cervicals. I observed that both in Tupuxuara and Tapejara (Iwaki specimens) there are some longer cervicals and others which are shorter and taller. I am not sure about the order, but in the (unpublished) Iwaki specimen, they were numbered, and the two shorter ones were cervicals no. 3 and 5 (not counting Atlas/Axis). I don’t know how accurate that ordering is since there is no publication, but I assume they either knew before preparation or they fit somehow, and since that’s the best information I have, I followed that same order in Tapejara.

I decided to not use any reconstructions as sources except my own. I used the four dorsal vertebrae from SMNK PAL 1137 as sources ignoring their  (incorrect) scale, adding broken and missing parts, and tried to fit them with the eighth cervical vertebra, using the Tupuxuara notarium as a reference but making each vertebra a little wider. After trying out three different prototypes, I could finally start making a final version.

I used foam strips for the processes and thicker foam for the vertebra’s body.

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After fitting the processes together, I separated the vertebrae to add details (processes) to each one.

Here are some views of the vertebrae after molding with fire, but before adding modeling resin.

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And here some more views after resin and staining with coffee.

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These are the dorsals that are part of the pectoral girdle, and which will articulate with the scapula. The exact number of dorsals after them before the sacrum seems to be unknown. Most reconstructions draw six notarium vertebrae + three to four free ones + two to three pelvic dorsals before the sacrum (that means 5 – 7 more dorsals), but other authors mention 10, 12. It seems that there is not enough evidence to be sure. I am also not sure about their shape. Do they get smaller, narrower, wider?

I don’t mind reading dozens of publications. It’s great. They revealed that many of my assumptions were bad theories, but they usually don’t offer me a solution. They open a discussion. And so, the more I read, the harder it is to make decisions, and I also reach the point where paleontologists disagree. It’s a fantastic discussion, really, but I have a deadline, so I have to make some choices. If they are bad, I will try to fix it before I deliver the skeleton.

So I decided to make 9 more dorsals (a total of 15). Three will be fused to the pelvic girdle, and the other six will be free. This is a first 3D sketch (the body and the spine of six dorsals).


After adding the processes and splitting.


After acrylic resin and staining.

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They are not really finished: I’m using them as prototypes so I can continue the work. Later I might reshape them, cut some excess foam, make them thinner, narrower, or even throw them away and make new ones. For now they just need to be functional.

I’m trying to find reliable information to make the pelvis. The only sources I have are SMNK PAL 1137 (just pelvis, no sacrum, one or two views of each bone and no more), and a side view from MN 6588-V. I would be nice to have other views. I’ve been trying to obtain permission from the Iwaki museum so I can have access to all Tapejara photos (I only have some), but so far I haven’t received any response. I might have to continue without them, unfortunately.

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The Making of Imaginary Pterosaurs


Click on the image above to download the PDF of my presentation at Rio Ptero 2013 about pterosaur reconstructions. Warning: it’s a big 186 MB file. You might prefer to right click and use “Save as…”. Soon I will also publish it in Scribd for online viewing.


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