China un­earths ear­li­est known an­ces­tor of birds

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

HONG KONG: China has un­earthed the fos­sil of a two-legged car­niv­o­rous di­nosaur that lived 160 mil­lion years ago and which re­searchers have iden­ti­fied as the ear­li­est known mem­ber of a long lin­eage that in­cludes birds.

The Haplocheirus sollers had a long, nar­row skull, many small teeth and pow­er­ful bi­ceps and fore­limbs, which en­abled it to hunt prim­i­tive lizards, small mam­mals and rep­tiles.

The in­di­vid­ual, be­lieved to be a young adult when it died, had a long tail and a to­tal body length of be­tween 190cm and 230cm, the re­searchers wrote in a pa­per pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence.

It was found in or­ange mud­stone beds in the Jung­gar Basin in China’s far west­ern Xin­jiang re­gion.

“It has unique fea­tures but it shares some fea­tures with birds. It moves its hands side­ways, as birds can fold their wings. Its head, ver­te­bral col­umn, hind limbs and hands are all bird-like,” said Pro­fes­sor Xu Xing at the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences In­sti­tute of Ver­te­brate Pa­le­on­tol­ogy & Pa­le­o­nan­thro­pol­ogy.

“Their legs have four dig­its like mod­ern birds, with three dig­its point­ing for­wards. The first digit, un­like in birds which points back­wards, points side­ways,” he said.

Xu, a mem­ber of a re­search team led by Jonah Choiniere at the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in Wash­ing­ton, said that while this species shared some fea­tures with birds, it was more like a “typ­i­cal car­niv­o­rous di­nosaur”.

“The most salient fea­ture of this group is their fore­limbs, they are preda­tors. They have three claws on their hands, used to catch other an­i­mals. They have very bizarre fore­limbs, they are very short but very stout and very strong,” said Xu.

“Prim­i­tive lizards, small mam­mals, mam­mal-like rep­tiles were all pos­si­ble food items,” he said.

“They rep­re­sent the ear­lier stage in the evo­lu­tion of birds, but they are not birds. You can say they are early an­ces­tors of birds.”

This species be­longs to the fam­ily of Al­varezsauri­dae – a bizarre group of bird-like di­nosaurs– and its dis­cov­ery pushes the fos­sil record of this fam­ily back by 60 mil­lion years into the Late Juras­sic pe­riod (145 mil­lion to 161 mil­lion years ago).

The Haplocheirus is about 60 mil­lion years older than the next old­est known Al­varezsauroid, which was dis­cov­ered in Ar­gentina in 1991 and lived 95 mil­lion years ago dur­ing the Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod (65 mil­lion to 145 mil­lion years ago). – Reuters

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