Pterosaur Paleontology, Hebert Bruno Campos @hebert_campos: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Hebert Bruno Campos analyzing pterosaur bones. ©2018 Hebert Bruno Campos

NAME: Hebert Bruno Campos

CURRENT TITLE: Pterosaurologist

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Pterosaur paleontology, vertebrate paleontology


EDUCATION: Graduation (Licenciature in Biology, Universidade Estadual Vale do Acaraú, Brazil), Paleontology of Vertebrates.


What’s your job like?

I am investigating the anatomy of new pterosaur specimens from the Crato and Santana formations of Brazil. I am finishing the study of an exceptionally well-preserved pterosaur from the Jurassic Solnhofen of Germany, which includes a complete wing membrane with the unusual presence of internal structures that are very rarely preserved in the fossil register and are barely studied. I am especially interested in certain aspects of pterosaurs that were a little explored previously. Today, there are new methodological technological analyses that are applied to fossil specimens, however, that alone is not enough! The interpretation is an important part. I am using computer tomography (CT) of three-dimensional (3D) skulls of Santana pterosaurs to collect information about the general neuroanatomy of derivate pterosaurs, and in the future, any intriguing aspects related to the pterosaur skull. Olfactory and visual systems, vascularity, and intelligence, for example – can be secondarily evaluated revealing valorous data. Pycnofibers and actinofibrils are part of my attention, but there are few pterosaur specimens that preserve these structures.

I have a solid background in art. From childhood, I had access to technical books of artistic design. The most important works in paleoart are the reconstruction of an ornithocheiroid pterosaur of the Santana Formation based on a specimen with many complete bony elements known in a museum in Japan. This work was done with the Russian art expert, Vlad Konstantinov. There is a collection of reconstruction of the pterosaur fauna of the Araripe Basin, which was developed in partnership with the paleoartist, Sergey Krasovskiy, which will be part of an illustrative book on the subject. The book is in preparation and should be published in the future.

There are two other works still under development: a technician who explores structures preserved in a wing of a small pterosaur Aurorazhdarcho of the Jurassic Period in Germany, and another, involving the combination of artistic and scientific elements of an exceptionally well-preserved skull of a new pterosaur from the Crato Formation. Of course, I have also worked with one colleague from Brazil (Helder da Rocha). He developed an original technique for the construction of light and detailed skeletons of pterosaurs based on the maximum scientific accuracy and using data from 3D bone elements of Santana pterosaurs. You know… heavy skeletons can be a problem to be mounted on museum ceilings. However, Helder’s skeletons are dynamic and can be easily dismounted, transported to other locations, and mounted in different poses (flight, attack, landing, etc.). They weigh a few kilos, different from the skeletons displayed there that can weigh more than 30 kilograms.

What’s a typical day like?

This is certainly the most difficult question here. I do not have typical days. I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) so I need to always be looking for different ways to motivate myself and get on with my work, especially when it comes to writing.

I work with insights. They are necessary to mature a new hypothesis or clarify an interpretation that seems difficult at first sight. Often fossils are incomplete and not always one specimen is equal to another of the same group. How do you know if it is a new species if there is so limited information? Interpreting soft tissue is an even more cautious activity. It must be carefully “digested.”

Since last year, I have been using a smart phone application for mind maps. They help me organize my ideas, projects, and plans. But I never stop using a notepad wherever I go. In my personal life, I’m a calm guy most of the time, but I always need music for company, and I feel good doing high-intensity physical exercises.

What’s fun?

LOL. I received Sandie Will’s invitation to A Day in the GeoLife series over 2 years ago (March 2016).

Well, come on … the fun part of my job is finding pleasure in developing knowledge about pterosaurs. It’s not an easy task, however. I work with drawing, art, and computer software, and also devote myself to the current and ancient scientific literature of pterosaurs, paleontology, and zoology. I can photograph, work with image editing, travel to scientific congresses, present papers, and meet colleagues – every moment, I have the opportunity to meet paleontologists that I have had contact with for many years but do not know personally.

There are also other fun parts: visits to natural history museums and scientific collections to study material. I use laboratories and equipment. Also, I do field work and some excavations at one time or another. Ah, the travel part is enjoyable .. since I have to study pterosaurs and they are in several museums around the world. I am not adept at tourism, so visiting museums is always mandatory!

What’s challenging?

For example, the diversity of species and groups of pterosaurs has grown considerably in the last 10 years, including new “families” of pterodactyloid pterosaurs, such as the chaoyangopterids and thalassodromids. There are known eggs and embryos of distinct pterosaur specimens of Hamipterus tianshanensis from the Cretaceous period in China which help us to learn about the first stages of development and inferences about the behaviour of neonates. Another very exciting study is about the ontogenetic development based on a series of skulls and skeletons of the tapejarid Caiuajara dobruskii from Cretaceous period in Brazil. In both cases, the considerable number of individual specimens found allowed paleontologists to establish a growth series, showing how individuals developed through their ontogeny. Recently, a new study about many of the last pterosaurs from the Maastrichtian era (last age of the Cretaceous, about 65 million of years old) in Morocco has revealed that the pterosaur extinction occurred abruptly, and there was no previous decline of general diversity that led to the complete extinction of the group. But it’s interesting that several aspects that were well explored in dinosaurs and Mesozoic birds are still poorly known in pterosaurs, for example, the neuroanatomy, physiology, and anatomy of microstructures.

Many issues are still being investigated and need to be better studied including: Who is the common ancestor of pterosaurs and other Triassic archosaurs? Are all the pterosaurs covered by pycnofibers (cover structures with similarity to hairs)? How does the distribution of actinofibrils (linear keratinous structures present internally in the wing membrane and pedal webbing) differ in different pterosaur species? Did all the pterosaurs fly? Are the flight style and wing model the same for different pterosaurs?

What’s your advice to students?

If you find a difficulty in your way, just make it your best mate. Diversities are important to our professional growth and as a person. Study, think, think and think… but never stop loving! Pleasure is the main fuel for motivation and for good scientific results.

Hmmm…here’s objective advice to students: Dedicate yourself to your academic activities, but, if possible, keep one or two hobbies. Collecting something, for example, is a good and distracting extra-academic activity (stamps, coins, rocks, fossils, books, figures). And, use your smartphone only the minimum required (!!!).


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