Science & Technology

Bird-sized fossil found in Myanmar could be smallest dinosaur: Scientists

The study could offer insight into how dinosaurs evolved to be small, according to scientists 

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 12 March 2020
Oculudentavis khaungraae had a skull that was less than 2 centimetres long.Credit: Lida Xing

A group of scientists may have discovered the smallest dinosaur yet. They found the fossilised skull of a dinosaur — the size of a modern hummingbird — trapped in a 99-million-year-old amber in northern Myanmar.

The animal in question would have weighed 2 grams, claimed the scientists in a paper published in the Nature journal.

The fossil represented the smallest dinosaur from the Mesozoic era — about 250 million to 65 million years ago — according to the group.

The discovery suggests miniature body sizes in birds evolved earlier than previously recognised. This may provide insight into how dinosaurs evolved to be small and shed light on the lowest limit of vertebrate body size.

The animal’s skull was less than two centimetres long.

Computed tomography scan of the skull of Oculudentavis khaungraae. Source: Nature

It had several sharp teeth, which suggested it preyed on insects and other small invertebrates, scientists observed. For this reason, the new species has been given the scientific name of Oculudentavis khaungraae, derived from Latin for ‘eye-teeth-bird’.

Unlike other predators, its eyes were on the sides of its head, which meant the dinosaur had little or no binocular vision. It had limited access to light into the eye, which scientists said was evidence that it was active in well-lit, daytime environments.

Authors Lida Xing from China University of Geosciences, Beijing; Jingmai K. O’Connor, Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology; Lars Schmitz, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, USA; and Gang Li, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, contributed equally. 

“It reveals to us a whole new lineage of birds,” said Jingmai O’Connor, co-author of the study and a palaeontologist at Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

“It’s a truly amazing specimen,” a Nature article quoted Amy Balanoff, an evolutionary biologist at Johns Hopkins University, as saying.

According to her, larger creatures were preserved more easily in sedimentary rocks. The discovery, however, could be evidence that there is more to ecological and morphological diversity seen in modern birds.

According to O'Connor, further research on the fossil would require advances in research techniques that don’t damage the specimen.

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