99-mn-yr-old Tiniest flying dino skull found trapped in amber
A team of scientists has identified a 99-million-year-old flying dinosaur skull trapped in amber from northern Myanmar. The skull is just 7.1 millimetres (less than one-third of an inch) oblong in shape and probably the smallest dinosaur discovered yet. The researchers claim that it would have been smaller than the smallest modern bird living today.
The researchers used high-resolution synchrotron CT scanning to study the fossil in detail, without cracking it open. The specimen is scientifically termed Oculudentavis, meaning ‘eye tooth bird’. However, in casual terms, the researchers refer to the specimen as ‘Teenie Weenie’.
Paleontologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of the study Jingmai O'Connor said, “When I first saw it I was blown away. It's pretty exquisitely preserved and really weird looking, with its unique sclera ring (eye bones) and a large number of teeth. And it's just weird on multiple levels. It's a new ecology, never seen before.”
She added, “The skull has large eyes with small pupils, so the dinosaur probably had good eyesight and hunted during the day. However, the bird’s eyes do not point forward like those of modern birds. Instead, it had eyes that bulged out to the sides with no binocular vision.”
The study said that hummingbirds feed mostly on nectar from flowers, but the tiny bird had rows of sharp teeth and probably ate insects.
Another Roger Benson from the University of Oxford, who was not part of the research said, “The discovery suggests that miniature body sizes in birds evolved earlier than previously recognised, and might provide insights into the evolutionary process of miniaturisation.”
The study was co-authored by researcher at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Luis Chiappe and published in the journal ‘Nature’ on Wednesday.