Dino Discovery
May 8, 2019

Not all dinosaurs fly the same.

New fossil evidence suggests that flight evolved in prehistoric animals in multiple ways — there were the pterosaurs, flying reptiles that we often think of as dinosaurs; "avian" dinosaurs, which eventually evolved into birds; and our newest find, a group of non-avian dinosaurs that evolved membranous wings, like a bat or a flying squirrel.

The new evidence, published in Nature on Wednesday, consists of a 163-million-year-old fossil found in the Liaoning province of China. It's the second such fossil found, but this one is a much clearer picture of the creature — even its feathers and soft tissue were preserved, Gizmodo reported. It was given the name Ambopteryx longibrachium, alluding to its similarity to pterosaurs, as well as its long forelimbs.

When the fossil was first discovered, scientists thought it might even be the fossil of a bird, National Geographic reported. In reality, it bears more resemblance to "a little, creepy-looking dinosaur squirrel," said Jingmai O'Connor, the study's co-author. The specimen is thought to have weighed less than a pound, about the size of a pigeon.

But despite its diminutive nature, this fossil is helping scientists make big strides in studying the way flight evolved. Learn more about the ongoing research at National Geographic. Shivani Ishwar

May 6, 2019

The British royal family isn't the only one welcoming a new addition today.

In new research published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, paleontologists announced they've identified a new type of dinosaur related to the Tyrannosaurus rex, this one standing just under three feet tall. The new species is called Suskityrannus hazelae, named after the word for "coyote" in Zuni, the indigenous language where the fossils were first discovered in New Mexico, the familiar root "tyrannus" meaning king, and Hazel Wolfe, a supporter of fossil expedition, Gizmodo explained.

While other T. rex-like dinosaurs have been discovered before, this is thought to be the one that's closest to the well-known species. Suskityrannus would have been in its prime about 92 million years ago, 27 million years before the reign of T. rex. While it's not a direct ancestor, it is certainly helping scientists better understand how T. rex evolved. Because Suskityrannus is so small compared to its larger relative — the entire body is just a bit larger than a T. rex skull — it can shed some light on the way that tyrannosaurids evolved to be so large in the first place.

Suskityrannus had "long feet, a strong bite, and sharp, serrated teeth," Gizmodo reported. While we don't have a complete skeleton, and thus don't know everything about its biology, what we have is enough to paint a picture of a formidable carnivore that may have worn the crown before T. rex was king. Learn more at Gizmodo. Shivani Ishwar

December 8, 2016

While at an amber market in Myanmar, Chinese paleontologist Lida Xing stumbled upon an extraordinary clue about the appearance of dinosaurs. Enclosed in a chunk of amber for sale, Xing spotted what turned out to be the perfectly preserved tail of a dinosaur that roamed the Earth some 99 million years ago. Her discovery marked the first time a mummified dinosaur skeleton has ever been found, and a paper on it was just published in the journal Current Biology.

Interestingly, the tail was neither big nor scaly. Instead, it measures about 3.7 centimeters in length and it is covered in feathers that appear to be chestnut-colored. The tail's vertebrae aren't fused like that of a bird's tail, suggesting the dinosaur could've moved the appendage in a "whip-like" fashion. Scientists believe the tail came from a young coelurosaur "about the size of a sparrow," BBC reported. At full size, NPR says the dinosaur likely would've been "a little smaller than an ostrich."

Different as this tiny, feathered dino may sound from the mammoth creatures featured in films, scientists say coelurosaurs are actually closely related to both the Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptor. Moreover, this newly discovered tail has more and more scientists thinking this feathery creature might be a more accurate portrait of dinosaurs than the ferocious beasts of Jurassic Park. "The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly velociraptor seem less and less likely and they've become a lot more bird-like," said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist who co-authored the paper. "They're not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought." Becca Stanek

July 9, 2015

Scientists have found fossils belonging to a previously undiscovered dinosaur in Canada that roamed the Earth more than 79 million years ago. The dinosaur, Wendiceratops pinhornensis, is one of the oldest known horned dinosaurs and a relative of the Triceratops. In appearance, the relation between the Triceratops and the new dino is pretty apparent. Wendiceratops has the same frill around its neck and big horns both above its eyes and over its nose. Scientists believe the horns may have helped to attract mates.

Scientists say that the new dinosaur discovery will help them understand the evolution of the dinosaur family that includes Triceratops. "It's a significant discovery in that it tells us a lot of new information about the early evolution of skull ornamentation, the hooks and horns, that characterize this iconic group of dinosaurs," Royal Ontario Museum paleontologist David Evans told NPR. While just a few decades ago, scientists only knew of 25 to 30 horned dinos, NPR reports that the number has now doubled to more than 60, and "new ones keep turning up all the time." Becca Stanek

April 27, 2015

Bringing your kids to work has its benefits.

Seven-year-old Diego Suarez was playing outside with his sister while his parents, both geologists, studied rock formations in the Andes in southern Chile. As they were playing, Suarez uncovered a fossilized dinosaur bone, which turned out to belong to a previously unknown species.

Paleontologists called to the site eventually discovered bones from more than a dozen dinosaurs, including four near-complete skeletons, The Guardian reports. The scientists named the species Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, after its location and the boy who discovered it. Most of the Chilesaurus remains are from animals roughly the size of turkeys, though the species could reach almost 10 feet in length.

The Chilesaurus, which lived about 145 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, is an enigma among dinosaurs — it's a relative of the T-rex, a carnivorous species, but the Chilesaurus was a plant-eater. The Chilesaurus' anatomy is also odd, Phys.org reports, because its skull and feet are more typical of long-necked dinosaurs than of tyrannosaurs.

The new species could change the way scientists look at bird evolution, too — the Chilesaurus is part of the theropod group, the ancestors to birds. The Chilesaurus proves that some theropods adapted meat-free diets much earlier than was previously believed, Phys.org notes. Meghan DeMaria

January 30, 2015

There's a new species of dinosaur, and it resembles a mythical Chinese dragon. Local farmers in Qijiang city, China, originally found its fossils back in 2006 and dubbed the dinosaur Qijianglong, meaning "dragon of Qijiang," CNN reports.

In findings published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Alberta researchers say the dinosaur, a species unique to Asia, was 50 feet long, with its neck taking up half its body.

"The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world,"  researcher Tetsuto Miyashita told CNN.

They found a vertebrae, skull, and tail, which will all end up at the city's new dinosaur museum when construction wraps up. Julie Kliegman

November 6, 2014

The Catoca diamond mine in Angola, the fourth-largest diamond mine in Africa, has yielded some surprising contents — and not just the diamonds.

The mine is home to 118-million-year-old footprints from dinosaurs, crocodiles, and large mammals. Researchers found nearly 70 different forms of tracks, including 18 sets of sauropod dinosaur tracks that date to the early Cretaceous period. The discovery marks the first dinosaur tracks found in Angola and the first vertebrate fossils found in Angola's inlands.

The finds are especially noteworthy because the mammal tracks are unusually large — most Cretaceous mammals were the size of rats. But the mammal footprints in the Catoca mine are roughly the size of a raccoon.

Geologist Vladimir Pervov first discovered the mammal tracks in 2010, and contacted Octavio Mateus, a paleontologist, who found the dinosaur tracks. The Catoca location stopped mining for nearly eight months to allow paleontologists to study the tracks. Meghan DeMaria

October 22, 2014

Scientists have long wondered about Deinocheirus mirificus, an oddball, 70 million-year-old dinosaur. The scientists report that the dino had a "beer belly," a duckbill, a camel-like hump, and ostrich-like neck (in fact, it's an ancestor of the modern ostrich). A study published today in the journal Nature finally explains the dinosaur's mutant appearance.

Researchers at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences were able to create an image of the dinosaur after studying bones that had been missing for years, Bloomberg reports. The missing bones had been sold on the black market to private collectors. The recovered skull bones, along with Deinocheirus bones recently discovered in the Gobi Desert, have finally allowed the scientists to create a nearly-complete skeleton from the dinosaur. Fragments of the dinosaur's arm bones were first discovered in 1965, and the species was named for its "horrible hands."

Thomas Holtz, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland, told Bloomberg that the Chimera-like dinosaur was "peculiar." Its oddities had their uses, though: The Deinocheirus mirificus used its tongue to "suction fish and plants" from lakes and ponds, since the dinosaur lacked teeth. Its beak, meanwhile, allowed it to eat plants. As for its stature — the dinosaur was 16 feet tall and 36 feet long, almost the size of a T-rex — the scientists suspect the Deinocheirus mirificus grew to a large size to avoid being eaten.

Holtz added that the researchers will use the findings on the dinosaur "to better understand ancient ecology," Bloomberg notes. Meghan DeMaria

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