About 148 to 150 million years ago, a strange, pheasant-sized, bird-like dinosaur with elongated legs and arms built like wings inhabited southeastern China.
The saurian had a puzzling anatomy that suggests it was either a fast runner or lived a lifestyle like that of a modern wader.
Scientists said Wednesday that they have unearthed in Fujian province the fossil of a Jurassic period dinosaur they named Fujianvenator prodigiosus, a creature that sheds light on a critical evolutionary stage in the origin of birds.
The question of whether Fujianvenator, with its curious mix of skeletal features, should be classified as a bird depends on how a bird is defined, according to study leader Min Wang, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Sciences.
A “strange” dinosaur
When asked for a word to describe Fujianvenator, Wang replied, “I would say it’s ‘strange.’ The Fujianvenator is far from being similar to any modern bird.
‘A notable event in dinosaur evolution occurred when small, two-legged feathered dinosaurs from a lineage known as theropods gave rise to birds in the late Jurassic.
The oldest known species, Archeopteryx, dates to approximately 150 million years ago in what is now Germany.
Asteroid survivor dinosaurs
Fujianvenator is a member of a group called avialans, which includes all birds and their closest non-avian dinosaur relatives, Wang said.
Despite their modest beginnings, birds survived the asteroid impact 66 million years ago that doomed their non-avian dinosaur comrades, notes the corresponding study, published in the journal Nature.
The Fujianvenator fossil, discovered last October, is fairly complete but lacks the animal’s skull and parts of its legs, making interpretation of its diet and lifestyle difficult.
To be or not to be a bird
Fujianvenator’s leg bone, the tibia, was twice as long as his thigh bone, the femur.
These dimensions are unique among theropods, a group that includes all carnivorous dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and several others. It also had a long bony tail.
“The forelimb is generally built like a bird’s wing, but with three claws on the fingers, which do not exist in modern birds.
That’s why it can be called a wing. It cannot be determined if she could fly or not. Based on the skeletal characteristics, the Fujianvenator is probably at least not good at flying,” Wang said.
«The fossil itself does not preserve feathers. However, their closest relatives and almost all known avian theropods have feathers, and feathers are widely distributed among dinosaurs. Therefore, it would not be a surprise if Fujianvenator had feathers,” Wang added.
Based on the anatomy of its long legs, the researchers proposed two possible lifestyles: running fast or walking in a swampy environment, like modern cranes or herons.
“I’d bet on the running back,” Wang said.