DAK Cearadactylus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Pterosauria
Suborder: Pterodactyloidea
Family: Ctenochasmatidae
Genus: Cearadactylus
Leonardi & Borgomanero, 1985
  • C. atrox Leonardi & Borgomanero, 1985 (type)

Cearadactylus atrox (meaning "Ceara's lethal finger") was a large, mid-Cretaceous (Aptian) pterosaur. Its wingspan is estimated to have been around 4 to 5.5 metres (13 to 18 feet), with a weight of perhaps 1l5 kilograms.

Its kinked upper jaw and its interlocking teeth presumed to suggest a more piscivourous diet, allowing the animal to keep hold of slippery fish.

The type species is Cearadactylus atrox, described and named by Leonardi and Borgomanero in 1985. It was discovered on the Araripe plateau (Santana Formation) in northeastern Brazil and is known from a single skull.


The holotype of Cearadactylus is MN 7019-V (formerly CB-PV-F-O93), which was discovered in the Romualdo Formation of the Santana Group in the Araripe plateau of northeastern Brazil. It consists of a single skull with a length of 57 centimeters (1.87 ft). 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.[1][2]

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 presumed to suggest a more 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.[3][4]

In 1993, Fabio Marco Dalla Vecchia named a second species, Cearadactylus ligabuei. The specific name honors Giancarlo Ligabue, the director of the Centro Studi Ricerche Ligabue in Venice. It is based on holotype CCSRL 12692/12713, again a heavily damaged crestless skull, 403 millimeters (15.9 in) 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 of "C." ligabuei at 6 meters (20 ft); Kellner, pointing out that the skull is not larger than the C. atrox holotype, estimated it at 5 meters (16 ft) 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.[5][6]

In 2005, Steel et al. suggested that it was a Coloborhynchus ligabuei.[7]


The wingspan of Cearadactylus was by the describers estimated to have been around 4 meters (13 feet), with a weight of perhaps 15 kilograms (33 lb). Peter Wellnhofer in 1991 estimated a wingspan of 5.5 meters (18 ft).[8]


A phylogenetic analysis by Pentland et al. in 2019 for example, had found Cearadactylus in a derived position within the Anhangueria, just outside the Ornithocheirae, which, by their definition, is the clade that contains the families Ornithocheiridae and Anhangueridae. Their cladogram is shown on the left.

Other studies however, have concluded that Cearadactylus is a member of the family Anhangueridae, more specifically a member of the subfamily Anhanguerinae, sister taxon to Maaradactylus.[9][10]

In popular culture[]

Sierra the Cearadactylus

Sierra the Cearadactylus

  • It was in the original Jurassic Park novel by Michael Crichton.
  • In The Land Before Time VII: the Stone of Cold Fire there is a sinister Cearadactylus named Sierra. He and Rinkus, a Rhamphorhynchus, are the main antagonists of the film.
  • In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs they appear in the third film chasing Buck, Crash and Eddie while they were flying to save Sid in Lava Falls. They almost caught them but Buck piloted Roger to Lava Falls. He pulled up sharply in front of a lava waterfall, but the Cearadactylus were unable to pull up fast enough and they plunged straight into the lava.