When you think of a dinosaur, imagine a gigantic animal. Of course, there are fossils of small dinosaurs, the size of a chicken. But what was recently found in Myanmar surpasses all of the above. Not only is it the smallest dinosaur ever discovered. It is also superbly preserved. It is the dinosaur preserved in amber.
It is the smallest dinosaur so far known. It was found in northern Myanmar in Southeast Asia. It's a bird-shaped skull trapped in amber 99 million years old. In an article published in the journal Nature, the researchers describe it. It is similar in size to the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. The finding may shed light on how small birds evolved from dinosaurs.
The Microraptor is another species of bird-shaped dinosaur. It weighed a few hundred grams. But the bee hummingbird barely reaches two grams.
"Very small animals have to deal with specific problems. Like having all the sense organs in a very small head. Or having to maintain body heat, "explained Professor Jingmai O’Connor. It belongs to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. The new species is called Oculudentavis khaungraae. He appears to have faced these challenges in unusual ways. For example, the structure of the animal's eye surprised scientists.
Highly developed view
The eye bones would have formed a cone, like the eye bones in owls. This indicates that the dinosaur had exceptional vision. Unlike owls, the eyes pointed sideways. The opening in the center of the ossicles was narrow, which would have restricted the amount of light entering the eye. This provides strong evidence. The Oculudentavis had an active life during the day.
"It is the strangest fossil I have been fortunate enough to study," explained Professor O'Connor. "I love how natural selection ends up producing such strange shapes." Because there is only one skull, it is unclear how the species is related to the birds. Some features of its head are similar to those of dinosaurs. Others are like those of highly developed birds.
The researchers note that the remarkable set of features of the new specimen could be either a miniaturization, or a specialization of a particular lifestyle. The dinosaur's jaw had a surprising number of teeth. This would suggest that, despite its small size, the Oculudentavis was a predator rather than an insect.
Amber, an ally of paleontology
In addition to the skull bones, some tissues, particularly those of the tongue, have also been preserved, which could provide more information about the biology of the animal. The finding highlights the incredible potential of amber. Preserve fossil specimens that otherwise would not have survived.
Study co-author Dr. Luis Chiappe of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History said: "It is fortunate that this small creature has been preserved in amber. These small, fragile animals are not common in the fossil record." .
"This finding is exciting because it gives us a picture of the small animals that lived in a tropical forest during the age of dinosaurs," he continued. The geographic location of the find may have something to do with the miniaturization process. Isolation is usually a factor at play. Experts believe that the dinosaur preserved in amber lived on an ancient set of islands. Looking at it is the closest thing to time travel. 99 million years.