The discovery of a small, bird-like skull, explained in an article printed in Nature, unveils a new species – “Oculudentavis khaungraae” – that could represent the smallest identified Mesozoic dinosaur in the fossil files.
While studying fossils from in northern Myanmar, Lars Schmitz, an associate prof of biology at the W.M. Keck Science Division, and a staff of international researchers found a seemingly mature skull specimen preserved in Burmese amber.
The group studied the specimen’s distinct features with high-resolution synchrotron scans to find out how the skull of the “Oculudentavis khaungraae” differs from other bird-like dinosaur specimens of that period. They found that the shape of the eye bones suggested a diurnal lifestyle. Besides, it revealed surprising similarities to the eyes of modern lizards.
The skull also exhibits a unique pattern of fusion between totally different bone parts, as well as the presence of teeth. The researchers observed that the specimen’s tiny size and strange form suggests never-before-seen features.
The discovery represents a specimen previously missing from the fossil record and offers new implications for understanding the evolution of birds, explaining the extreme miniaturization of avian body sizes early in the evolutionary course.
The specimen’s preservation underscores amber deposits’ potential to reveal the lowest limits of vertebrate body size.