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Tiny bird-like dinosaur’s skull and DNA found in 99-million-year-old amber


By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |

Published: March 12, 2020 4:13:45 pm


Oculudentavis khaungraae, bird dinosaur, tiny dinosaur, dinosaur dna, dinosaur skull in amber, jurassic park An illustration of the tiny but fierce bird-like dinosaur, Oculudentavis khaungraae, hunting an unsuspecting insect. (Image credit: Zhixin Han)

Scientists have found the skull of a 99-million-year-old flying dinosaur that is tinier than the tiniest bird known to humans. The bird-like dinosaur, dubbed Oculudentavis khaungraae, was found stuck in a gob of tree resin that eventually hardened into amber, preserving it for millions of years to come.

The study published in the journal Nature reveals that this dinosaur was so slight, it likely weighed just 2 grams. The dinosaur skull holds around 100 sharp teeth, which hints at its ferocious nature despite its small size. Researchers say that Oculudentavis khaungraae even had teeth in the back of its jaw, under its eye. The study co-lead researcher Jingmai O’Connor believes that since this dinosaur is so tiny, it could possibly only feed on insects and other invertebrates.

The amber holds the dinosaur’s head

The pebble-size amber piece was dug up in 2016 from a mine in Myanmar. It was purchased by Khaung Ra, who donated it to her son-in-law’s museum, the Hupoge Amber Museum in China. O’Connor and her colleagues named the dinosaur Oculudentavis khaungraae, combining the Latin words “oculus” (eye), “dentes” (teeth) and “aves” (bird) whereas the species name honours Khaung Ra.

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The study says that even though amber chunk contains just the dinosaur’s head, it was imperiled over the ages. The skull is a bit damaged but its other parts are more intact.

What does the study reveal about the tiny dinosaur

There’s a theory on animal size that suggests that larger creatures “miniaturise” when they evolve on isolated islands. As per the research, the Oculudentavis flew around resin-producing trees during its lifetime in brackish waters at a time when that part of Myanmar was on an island arc.

Oculudentavis khaungraae, bird dinosaur, tiny dinosaur, dinosaur dna, dinosaur skull in amber, jurassic park Burmese amber with Oculudentavis skull nearly perfectly preserved inside. (Lida Xing)

Researchers found “weird” characteristics of the skull including its spoon-shape bones around the eye. They also say that its eyes could have rested on a cup-shaped bone, making them bulge outward.

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The O khaungraae is just one-sixth the size of the smallest known early fossil bird– making it the smallest known dinosaur of the Mesozoic era. If you are wondering if a Jurassic Park like thing could be created using this amber, there’s bad news. The research says that while fragments of the dinosaur’s DNA may still exist in the specimen, there isn’t nearly enough for cloning purposes.

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Updated: March 12, 2020 — 10:45 am

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