About 148 to 150 million years in the past, a wierd pheasant-sized and bird-like dinosaur with elongated legs and arms constructed very similar to wings inhabited southeastern China, with a puzzling anatomy suggesting it both was a quick runner or lived a life-style like a contemporary wading hen.
Scientists stated on Wednesday they’ve unearthed in Fujian Province the fossil of a Jurassic Interval dinosaur they named Fujianvenator prodigiosus – a creature that sheds mild on a crucial evolutionary stage within the origin of birds.
The query of whether or not the Fujianvenator, with its curious combination of skeletal options, ought to be categorised as a hen is dependent upon how one defines a hen, in keeping with research chief Min Wang, a palaeontologist on the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese language Academy of Sciences.
Requested for a phrase to explain Fujianvenator, Wang replied, “I might say ‘weird’. Fujianvenator is way from much like any fashionable birds.”
A outstanding occasion in dinosaur evolution got here when small feathered two-legged dinosaurs from a lineage often called theropods gave rise to birds late within the Jurassic, with the oldest-known hen – Archaeopteryx – relationship to roughly 150 million years in the past in Germany.
Fujianvenator is a member of a grouping referred to as avialans that features all birds and their closest non-avian dinosaur kin, Wang stated. Regardless of their modest beginnings, birds survived the asteroid strike 66 million years in the past that doomed their non-avian dinosaur comrades.
Runner or flyer?
The Fujianvenator fossil, found final October, is pretty full however lacks the animal’s cranium and components of its ft, making it laborious to interpret its food regimen and life-style.
Fujianvenator’s decrease leg bone – the tibia – was twice so long as its thigh bone – the femur. Such dimensions are distinctive amongst theropods, a bunch that features all of the meat-eating dinosaurs corresponding to Tyrannosaurus and numerous others. It additionally had a protracted, bony tail.
“The forelimb is usually constructed like a hen’s wing, however with three claws on the fingers, that are absent from fashionable birds. So you possibly can name it wing. It can’t be decided whether or not it might fly or not. Based mostly on the skeletal options, Fujianvenator most likely is a minimum of not good at flying,” Wang stated.
“The fossil itself doesn’t protect feathers. Nonetheless, its closest kin and almost all of the identified avialan theropods have feathers, and feathers are broadly distributed amongst dinosaurs. Due to this fact, it might not be a shock if Fujianvenator had feathers,” Wang added.
Based mostly on the anatomy of its lengthy legs, the researchers proposed two potential existence – both quick operating or wading in a swampy surroundings, very similar to fashionable cranes or herons.
“I might put my cash on runner,” Wang stated.
Scientists are looking for a greater understanding of the origin of birds, in addition to non-avian dinosaurs with bird-like traits.
“To me, Fujianvenator represents one other fascinating piece of proof exhibiting the large distribution of varied bird-like dinosaurs residing almost on the similar time and sharing comparable habitats with their hen descendants,” stated palaeontologist Zhonghe Zhou of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, a co-author of the research revealed within the journal, Nature.
The earliest chapters within the historical past of birds stay murky because of the paucity of fossils. After Archaeopteryx – a crow-sized hen with enamel, a protracted bony tail and no beak whose fossils have been first discovered within the nineteenth century – there’s a canyon of about 20 million years earlier than the following birds seem within the fossil file.
“One factor is for certain. There’s nonetheless a giant hole between the oldest identified hen and the second-oldest identified birds,” Zhou stated.