The skull of an extraordinarily well preserved bird in amber from 99 million years ago, found in Burma, is the smallest dinosaur known to date.
The specimen, called “Oculudentavis khaungraae“, was trapped in a piece of amber dated to the middle of the Mesozoic era. This means between 251 million years ago and 65 million years ago. Lida Xing from China University of Geosciences first examined this piece of amber in early 2020.
The skull of this dinosaur was only seven millimeters long
“Like all animals trapped in amber, it is very well preserved. We have the impression that it died yesterday, with all its soft tissues preserved in this small window of ancient times,” commented the study’s lead author, Jingmai O’Connor. She is part of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleontropology in Beijing.
The skull in profile is dominated by a large eye socket, suggesting that there was an eye looking sideways, similar to that of the lizard. With the help of a scanner, the researchers revealed a jaw with a hundred pointed teeth inside the beak.
It was a small predator
“It does not resemble any species alive today, so we must be imaginative to understand what its morphology means. However, its tapered skull, multiple teeth and large eyes suggest that despite its size it was probably a predator that fed on insects,” according to the paleontologist.
The vertebrate coexisted with long-necked dinosaurs and large flying reptiles such as pterosaurs, in a period of abundant fauna.
It was part of a microfauna that only amber could preserve. Without this fossil resin, “we would not know anything about these tiny organisms, much more difficult to find than the large ones,” said this scientist.
When we think of dinosaurs, we imagine immense skeletons but currently paleontology is being completely transformed thanks to the discovery of fossils preserved in this way. There must be fragments of DNA preserved inside, from which we can acquire the priceless knowledge of how the prehistoric world once evolved.