New Dinosaur Discovered In China Shows Dinosaurs Grew Up Differently From Birds

Wulong bohaiensis. The skeleton described in the new paper is remarkably complete. The name means 'dancing dragon' in Chinese and was named in part to reference its active pose. (Image: Ashley Poust)
Wulong bohaiensis. The skeleton described in the new paper is remarkably complete. The name means 'dancing dragon' in Chinese and was named in part to reference its active pose. (Image: Ashley Poust)

A new species of feathered dinosaur has been discovered in China, and described by American and Chinese authors in the journal The Anatomical Record. The one-of-a-kind specimen offers a window into what the Earth was like 120 million years ago. The fossil preserves feathers and bones that provide new information about how dinosaurs grew and how they differed from birds. Dr. Ashley Poust, who analyzed the specimen, said:

Scientists named the dinosaur Wulong bohaiensis. Wulong is Chinese for “the dancing dragon” and references the position of the beautifully articulated specimen.

About the discovery

The specimen was found more than a decade ago by a farmer in China, in the fossil-rich Jehol Province, and since then has been housed in the collection of the Dalian Natural History Museum in Liaoning, a northeastern Chinese province bordering North Korea and the Yellow Sea. The skeletal bones were analyzed by Poust alongside his advisor, Dr. David Varricchio, from Montana State University, while Poust was a student there.

Larger than a common crow and smaller than a raven, but with a long, bony tail that would have doubled its length, Wulong bohaiensis had a narrow face filled with sharp teeth. Its bones were thin and small, and the animal was covered with feathers, including a wing-like array on both its arms and legs and two long plumes at the end of its tail. This animal is one of the earliest relatives of Velociraptor, the famous dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 75 million years ago. Wulong’s closest well-known relative would have been Microraptor, a genus of small, 4-winged paravian dinosaurs.

Scientists named the dinosaur Wulong bohaiensis. Wulong is Chinese for "the dancing dragon" and references the position of the beautifully articulated specimen. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Scientists named the dinosaur Wulong bohaiensis. Wulong is Chinese for “the dancing dragon” and references the position of the beautifully articulated specimen. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The discovery is significant not only because it describes a dinosaur that is new to science, but also because it shows the connection between birds and dinosaurs. Poust said:

“The specimen has feathers on its limbs and tail that we associate with adult birds, but it had other features that made us think it was a juvenile.”

To understand this contradiction, the scientists cut up several bones of the new dinosaur to examine under a microscope. This technique, called bone histology, is becoming a regular part of the paleontology toolbox, but it’s still sometimes difficult to convince museums to let a researcher remove part of a nice skeleton. Poust added:

The bones showed that the new dinosaur was a juvenile. This means that at least some dinosaurs were getting very mature looking feathers well before they were done growing. Birds grow up very fast and often don’t get their adult plumage until well after they are full sized. Showy feathers, especially those used for mating, are particularly delayed. And yet here was an immature dinosaur with two long feathers extending beyond the tip of the tail. Poust explained:

An additional surprise came from the second dinosaur the scientists sampled; Sinornithosaurus wasn’t done growing either. The bone tissue was that of an actively growing animal and it lacked an External Fundamental System — a structure on the outside of the bone that vertebrates form when they’re full size. Poust said:

In spite of these cautions, Poust says there is a lot more to learn about dinosaurs, adding:

About the Jehol biota

The area in which the specimen was found is one of the richest fossil deposits in the world. The Jehol biota is known for the incredible variety of animals that were alive at the time.

The Jehol Biota includes all the living organisms – the ecosystem – of northeastern China between 133 and 120 million years ago. This is the Lower Cretaceous ecosystem which left fossils in the Yixian Formation and Jiufotang Formation. It is also believed to have left fossils in the Sinuiju series of North Korea.[1] The ecosystem in the Lower Cretaceous was dominated by wetlands and numerous lakes (not rivers, deltas, or marine habitats). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The Jehol Biota includes all the living organisms – the ecosystem – of northeastern China between 133 and 120 million years ago. This is the Lower Cretaceous ecosystem that left fossils in the Yixian Formation and Jiufotang Formation. It is also believed to have left fossils in the Sinuiju series of North Korea.[1] The ecosystem in the Lower Cretaceous was dominated by wetlands and numerous lakes (not rivers, deltas, or marine habitats). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

It is also one of the earliest bird-rich environments, where birds, bird-like dinosaurs, and pterosaurs all shared the same habitat. Poust said:

Provided by: San Diego Natural History Museum [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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