About 148 to 150 million years ago, a dinosaur species appears to have lived with a remarkable anatomy, according to scientists. A fossil of a bird-like dinosaur with long hind legs and front legs reminiscent of wings has been discovered in southeastern China’s Fujian province.
The part below the knee of the hind legs is twice as long as the thighs of the animal, which can be compared in size to a pheasant. And that is remarkable, because the ratio is the other way around in most dinosaurs.
Due to its special build, this Fujianvenator prodigiosus (Latin for: bizarre hunter from Fujian) raises the question among scientists whether the animal can be classified as a bird.
“Fujianvenator is nothing like any modern bird,” said paleontologist Min Wang, who is leading the research and excavation. When asked how he would describe animal, he replies: “I would call it bizarre.”
Runner or wader
The fossil was found in October, but the discovery was only recently published in the scientific journal Nature. Incidentally, the fossil is not complete. It is missing a head and parts of its claws, making it difficult for scientists to determine how the animal lived and what its diet must have been like.
Based on the physique, the researchers assume two possible ways of life. Modern animals with long lower legs can generally run fast. Presumably Fujianvenator could too.
Another option is that the animal resembled modern-day wading birds, such as herons or cranes. If so, he probably lived in a swampy area.
And the arms-like forelimbs are reminiscent of wings, but have three protruding fingers, says Wang. “Contemporary birds don’t have that. You could call it a wing, but it cannot be determined whether the beast could also fly.” Based on the information they have now, the scientists think the animal probably can’t fly very well, if at all.
Birds are generally believed to be descended from bipedal dinosaurs, the so-called theropod dinosaurs, with the distinctive three toes and hollow bones. The T-Rex and Velociraptor are the best known examples.
The oldest bird species found so far dates from 150 million years ago, the feathered Archeopteryx, also from the late Jurassic period. Not much is known about the early evolution of birds, as few fossils are found from that time.
Various bird species
The Fujianvenator therefore sheds new light on the origins of birds as we know them today. Because the animal lived roughly in the same period as the Archeopteryx found in Germany, this gives scientists the impression that dinosaurs already split into different bird-like species at that time.
“For me, Fujianvenator is another interesting clue to how diverse the different bird-like dinosaurs were. They lived almost at the same time and in similar environments to their descendants today,” said paleontologist Zhonghe Zhou, who co-authored the paper in Nature with Wang.
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