World's smallest dinosaur was the size of hummingbird, study finds

Skull of smallest-known bird embedded in 99-million-year-old amber

Skull of smallest-known bird embedded in 99-million-year-old amber

One of the researchers who helped recover the fossils from Myanmar, Lars Schmitz, said: "Amber preservation of vertebrates is rare, and this provides us a window into the world of dinosaurs at the lowest end of the body-size spectrum". The large number of teeth suggests that, despite its tiny size, Oculudentavis was a predator.

It's thought that the dinosaur would go on the hunt during the daytime, with its diet consisting of bugs and other small invertebrates - which makes it distinct from birds of comparable size.

Scientists have discovered a new species of bird-like dinosaur from a skull trapped in amber.

The skull of Oculudentavis khaungraae was found in a globule of amber in Myanmar, offering researchers a startlingly clear view of its features.

Further, the bones supporting Oculudentavis' eyes are spoon-shaped like some lizards, rather than square like a bird's. "I literally have never seen anything like this", said Jingmai O'Connor, senior professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and a research associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

In addition, the creature's eyes would have bulged out of its head in a manner not seen in any other living animal, making it hard to understand exactly how the eyes functioned. "I just love how natural selection ends up producing such freaky forms".

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A CT scan of the skull of Oculudentavis by Li Gang.

The team named their find Oculudentavis khaungraae, which means "eye tooth bird", and its appearance is every bit as mishmashed as its name. Still, O'Connor told Mashable via email she estimates its body was around 5-7 centimetres long.

While the smallest dinosaurs, such as the bird-like Microraptor, weighed hundreds of grams, the bee hummingbird weighs just 2g. "The smallest non-avian dinosaur of the Mesozoic was probably a scansoriopterygid", said O'Connor. "We don't know a lot about tiny things in the age of the dinosaurs". "But nothing hummingbird sized!" "The tiny eyes of Oculudentavis were very large but with a pupil size that suggests it was diurnal". They are also confident that, despite its minuscule size, the fossil is an adult.

"We know its not an infant from the proportions of the skull (the eye is not proportionately large for its size and the rostrum [beak] is not short), the high degree of fusion between numerous skull bones, and the morphology of certain elements like the maxilla [upper jaw]", O'Connor told Mashable.

At this time, scientists have classified Oculudentavis as an extremely primitive bird placed between Archaeopteryx (the oldest and most primitive bird that lived 150-155 million years ago) and Jeholornis (a long, bony-tailed bird from 120 million years ago).

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