Science

San Diego researcher discovers ‘dancing dragon’ fossil

San Diego researcher discovers ‘dancing dragon’ fossil”

An exquisite fossil of a fierce little Chinese dinosaur dubbed the "dancing dragon" that lived 120 million years ago - an older cousin of the Velociraptor - is showing scientists that feathers grew differently on dinosaurs than on birds.

Wulong's fossil, unearthed in Liaoning Province in northeastern China almost a decade ago and recently unveiled in a paper publish The Anatomical Record, includes a complete skeleton as well as soft tissues like feathers rarely preserved in such detail.

San Diego Natural History Museum paleontologist describes a dinosaur that is new to science, shows dinosaurs grew up differently from birds.

Scientists named the dinosaur "Wulong bohaiensis." .

Wulong's tail, on the other hand, practically doubles the dinosaur's length, and its feathers appear to have developed well before sexual maturity. It also had a "narrow face filled with sharp teeth" and was covered in feathers.

Experts from China and the United States now think this dancing specimen is one of the earliest relatives of velociraptors, and a crucial stepping stone in the obscure dinosaur-to-bird transition. Wulong's closest well-known relative would have been Microraptor, a genus of small, four-winged paravian dinosaurs.

The Jiufotang Formation, where the fossil was found, belongs to the Jehol group - known for its incredible variety of animals, it's considered one of the earliest habitats where dinosaurs, birds, and bird-like dinosaurs co-existed.

Archaeologists have made a breakthrough discovery in connecting the lineage of birds and dinosaurs.

The fossil of the fresh dinosaur is alongside a line drawing of the skeleton and a stop-up of the tail feathers.

This dinosaur was a juvenile to its death, according to its bones, but its feathers resembled those of a mature adult.

The researchers actually cut several bones from the fossil and studied them with microscopes to understand the different regions of the skeleton.

An artist rendering of what Wulong bohaiensis might have looked like. "Of course, perhaps they're using these feathers in a very different way from living birds, too".

The researchers also discovered that a fossil of another dinosaur, Sinornithosaurus, was not done growing either, due to histology. Those bones were also large and adult-looking, but turned out to not be fully grown either. As a result, Poust says there's still a great deal to learn about dinosaurs. "It's really very exciting to see inside these animals for the first time". W. bohaiensis is part of the Jehol biota, one of the richest fossil deposits ever discovered. Other important changes were happening at the same time in the Early Cretaceous, including the spread of flowering plants.

The results were published last week in The Anatomical Record.

"There was a lot of flying, gliding, and flapping around these ancient lakes", says Poust. "As we continue to discover more about the diversity of these small animals, it becomes interesting how everyone could have fit into the ecosystem ..." It was an alien world, but with some of the first feathers and flowers, it would have been pretty.



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