Science & Technology

One-of-a-Kind Dinosaur Specimen Discovered in China Offers View Into Dinosaur-Bird Evolution

Wulong bohaiensis. The skeleton described in the brand new paper is remarkably full. The identify means “Dancing Dragon” in Chinese language and was named in half to reference its lively pose. Credit score: Ashley Poust

San Diego Pure Historical past Museum paleontologist describes a dinosaur that’s new to science, reveals dinosaurs grew up otherwise from birds.

A brand new species of feathered dinosaur has been found in China, and described by American and Chinese language authors in the journal, The Anatomical Record.

The one-of-a-kind specimen provides a window into what the earth was like 120 million years in the past. The fossil preserves feathers and bones that present new details about how dinosaurs grew and the way they differed from birds.

“The brand new dinosaur suits in with an unbelievable radiation of feathered, winged animals which are carefully associated to the origin of birds,” mentioned Dr. Ashley Poust, who analyzed the specimen whereas he was a pupil at Montana State College and through his time as a Ph.D. pupil at College of California, Berkeley. Poust is now postdoctoral researcher on the San Diego Pure Historical past Museum.

Wulong artist’s rendering. Credit score: Ashley Poust

“Finding out specimens like this not solely reveals us the generally shocking paths that historic life has taken, but additionally permits us to check concepts about how necessary fowl traits, together with flight, arose in the distant previous.”

Scientists named the dinosaur Wulong bohaiensis. Wulong is Chinese language for “the dancing dragon” and references the place of the fantastically articulated specimen.

The specimen was discovered greater than a decade in the past by a farmer in China, in the fossil-rich Jehol Province, and since then has been housed in the gathering of The Dalian Pure Historical past Museum in Liaoning, a northeastern Chinese language province bordering North Korea and the Yellow Sea. The skeletal bones have been analyzed by Poust alongside his advisor, Dr. David Varricchio, from Montana State College whereas Poust was a pupil there.

Wulong cranium. Credit score: Ashley Poust

Bigger than a typical crow and smaller than a raven, however with a protracted, bony tail which might have doubled its size, Wulong bohaiensis had a slim face full of sharp tooth. Its bones have been skinny and small, and the animal was lined with feathers, together with a wing-like array on each its legs and arms and two lengthy plumes on the finish of its tail.  

This animal is among the earliest kinfolk of Velociraptor, the well-known dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived roughly 75 million years in the past. Wulong’s closest well-known relative would have been Microraptor, a genus of small, four-winged paravian dinosaurs.

The invention is critical not solely as a result of it describes a dinosaur that’s new to science, but additionally as a result of it reveals connection between birds and dinosaurs.

“The specimen has feathers on its limbs and tail that we affiliate with grownup birds, nevertheless it had different options that made us assume it was a juvenile,” mentioned Poust. To know this contradiction, the scientists reduce up a number of bones of the brand new dinosaur to look at underneath a microscope. This system, known as bone histology, is changing into an everyday a part of the paleontology toolbox, nevertheless it’s nonetheless generally tough to persuade museums to let a researcher take away a part of a pleasant skeleton. “Fortunately, our coauthors on the Dalian Pure Historical past Museum have been actually ahead considering and allowed us to use these methods, not solely to Wulong, but additionally to a different dinosaur, a detailed relative that seemed extra grownup known as Sinornithosaurus.”

Wulong skeleton. Credit score: Ashley Poust

The bones confirmed that the brand new dinosaur was a juvenile. Which means a minimum of some dinosaurs have been getting very mature trying feathers properly earlier than they have been completed rising. Birds develop up very quick and infrequently don’t get their grownup plumage till properly after they’re full sized. Showy feathers, particularly these used for mating, are significantly delayed. And but right here was an immature dinosaur with two lengthy feathers extending past the tip of the tail.

“Both the younger dinosaurs wanted these tail feathers for some perform we don’t find out about, or they have been rising their feathers actually otherwise from most dwelling birds,” defined Poust.

An extra shock got here from the second dinosaur the scientists sampled; Sinornithosaurus wasn’t completed rising both. The bone tissue was that of an actively rising animal and it lacked an Exterior Basic System: a construction on the surface of the bone that vertebrates type after they’re full dimension. “Right here was an animal that was giant and had grownup trying bones: we thought it was going to be mature, however histology proved that concept unsuitable. It was older than Wulong, however appears to have been nonetheless rising. Researchers should be actually cautious about figuring out whether or not a specimen is grownup or not. Till we study much more, histology is actually essentially the most reliable method.”

Regardless of these cautions, Poust says there may be much more to find out about dinosaurs.

“We’re speaking about animals that lived twice as way back as T. rex, so it’s fairly wonderful how properly preserved they’re. It’s actually very thrilling to see inside these animals for the primary time.”

The realm in which the specimen was discovered is among the richest fossil deposits in the world. The Jehol biota is thought for the unbelievable number of animals that have been alive on the time. It’s also one of many earliest bird-rich environments, the place birds, bird-like dinosaurs, and pterosaurs all shared the identical habitat.  

“There was a whole lot of flying, gliding, and flapping round these historic lakes,” says Poust. “As we proceed to find extra in regards to the variety of those small animals it turns into fascinating how all of them might need match into the ecosystem.” Different necessary modifications have been taking place on the identical time in the Early Cretaceous, together with the unfold of flowering vegetation. “It was an alien world, however with a few of the earliest feathers and earliest flowers, it will have been a reasonably one.”

Reference: “A brand new microraptorine theropod from the Jehol Biota and progress in early dromaeosaurids” by Ashley W. Poust, Chunling Gao, David J. Varricchio, Jianlin Wu and Fengjiao Zhang, 15 January 2020, The Anatomical Document.
DOI: 10.1002/ar.24343

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