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World’s smallest dinosaur found embedded in amber

Adam Bennett, March 12, 2020 8:00AM The Sun

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The skull of a birdlike dinosaur named Oculudentavis khaungraae, discovered in a 99-million-year-old amber from northern Myanmar. Picture: AFP/Xing Lida/China University of Geosciences media_cameraThe skull of a birdlike dinosaur named Oculudentavis khaungraae, discovered in a 99-million-year-old amber from northern Myanmar. Picture: AFP/Xing Lida/China University of Geosciences

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The world’s smallest dinosaur has been discovered — and it looks like a miniature pigeon.

The 100 million-year-old bird, just 5cm long, had bulging lizard-like eyes and a beak packed with 100 sharp teeth.

Its tiny head was found preserved in amber — fossilised tree resin or sap — and has “blown away” scientists, who said it “looks like it died yesterday”.

The dinosaur, named Oculudentavis khaungraae, lived in present-day Myanmar 100  million years ago and would have weighed less than 28g.

It would have been roughly the same size as today’s smallest bird — the bee hummingbird.

The fossil’s head is smaller than a blueberry but the perfectly preserved details are visible using 3D imaging.

media_cameraAn artist’s impression of Oculudentavis khaungraae. Picture: AFP/Zhixin Han/China University of Biosciences

It has enabled researchers to generate a computerised image of its whole body.

And evidence — including its large eyes with small pupils* adapted to daylight — point to it being a predatory* dinosaur that would have fed on small insects.

An artist's impression of the bird-like dinosaur. Picture: Reuters media_cameraAn artist’s impression of the birdlike dinosaur Oculudentavis khaungraae. Picture: Han Zhixin/Reuters

Oculudentavis means “eye tooth bird”.

Prof Jingma O’Connor, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in journal Nature: “I was completely blown away.

“To a palaeontologist*, it’s weird. We’ve never seen anything like it. I definitely couldn’t keep a lid on this one. There’s nothing like this alive today.

“It’s just incredible to uncover this new ecological* niche* we never even knew existed.”

The find will help scientists study further how modern birds evolved from the dinosaurs.

A BIG DINOSAUR DISCOVERY
Fifty footprints from one of the earliest dinosaurs have been found in the UK.

The oval tracks are thought to have been left by a young stegosaurus.

They were found on the Isle of Skye by experts from the University of Edinburgh.

Dinosaurs roamed the Scottish island 170  million years ago.

Stegosauruses grew up to 9m long and weighed just under 6 tonnes.

This article was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.

GLOSSARY

  • pupils: the black part of an eyeball
  • predatory: preys on other animals
  • palaeontologist: studies fossils of extinct animals and plants
  • ecological: to do with plants and animals and how they live together
  • niche: small or specialised place or section of a population

EXTRA READING

Entire herd of dinosaurs found in Australia

Huge dinosaur tracks found in Queensland

New wallaby-sized Australian dinosaur found

Giant parrot nicknamed ‘Squawkzilla’ found

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is amber and why is it mentioned in this story?
  2. What does Oculudentavis mean?
  3. What will the tiny dinosaur help scientists understand?
  4. Where were the footprints found?
  5. How big were stegosauruses?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What’s the most important discovery?
In today’s story, you have read about two big discoveries about dinosaurs. Which discovery do you think is the most important? Give reasons for your answer.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
The scientists have worked out what the whole body of the fossil looked like, just from its head. How do you think they were able to work this out? Brainstorm as many ideas as you can.

Time: allow at least 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Heads Up
The preserved fossil is just a head, but does that really mean the scientists know that it was definitely a bird? It has lizard-like eyes, are they sure it’s not a bird-headed lizard?

If they can’t see the wings, did it even fly or was it more like a penguin or emu perhaps?

Come up with another possible body and habitat for the fossil that could be plausible for the age of dinosaurs.

Write a description of what your version looked like, where it lived and what it ate.

Then draw a picture of your version of the tiny dinosaur.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Give the tiny birdlike dinosaur a name.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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