The head and beak of this dinosaur have been enclosed in amber for 99 million years. - XING Lida / China University of Geosciences / AFP
Frozen for eternity. The skull of a tiny bird that has been exceptionally well preserved in amber for 99 million years has been discovered in Burma, and could be the smallest dinosaur known to date, according to a study published on Wednesday.
“I was literally blown away, I had never seen anything like it. That's wonderful ! ", Paleontologist Jingmai O'Connor, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature , welcomes AFP.
A skull 7 mm long and a hundred teeth
The specimen, called "oculudentavis khaungraae", was trapped in a piece of amber dating from the middle of the Mesozoic era (-251 million years to -65 million years). With a skull of 7 mm in length, it rivals in size with the bee hummingbird, the smallest of the birds currently alive, making it the smallest known dinosaur of this era, according to Nature .
“Like all animals enclosed in amber, it is very well preserved. One has the impression that he died yesterday, with all his soft tissues trapped in this small window overlooking ancient times, ”comments Jingmai O'Connor, from the Institute of Paleontology of Vertebrates and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.
Through the translucent medallion, we see a skull in profile dominated by a large eye cavity, suggesting an eye looking to the side, similar to that of a lizard. Using a CT scan, the researchers were able to find a jaw full of sharp teeth - a hundred in total.
Nicknamed "Teenie weenie"
"It doesn't look like anything alive today, so we have to be imaginative to understand the meaning of its morphology." But his tapered skull, multiple teeth and large eyes suggest that despite his small size, he was probably a predator that fed on insects, ”explains the paleontologist.
The tiny vertebrate, nicknamed "teenie weenie" in English ("all mini"), coexisted with long-necked dinosaurs, large flying reptiles such as pterosaurs, at a time when wildlife was very rich. It was a little-known micro-fauna that only amber was able to preserve. How? 'Or' What ? "Imagine a swamp or forest near the sea, with trees producing a large amount of resin, some pieces of which detach themselves by oozing along the trunks, capturing the fauna living on them," describes Jingmai O'Connor. Without this fossilized resin, "we wouldn't know anything about these tiny organisms, which are much more difficult to find than the big ones," she said.
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