China has revealed the fossil of a little dinosaur that resembled a bird and had unexpectedly long lower legs.
The species would have existed in what is now Fujian Province in southeast China 148 million to 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic Period.
The species, called Fuijianvenator prodigiosus, has extended lower legs that were twice as long as its thighs. The name Fuijianvenator means “bizarre hunter from Fuijian” in Latin. The opposite is usually true with dinosaurs.
The fossil, which is about 1.4 pounds (641 grams) in weight and the size of a pheasant, is significant because it filled in a gap in the fossil record near the beginning of birds, according to Min Wang, the study’s lead author.
The Jurassic period is when birds separated from two-legged therapod dinosaurs (the group T. rex belonged to), yet there aren’t many remains from this time period, making it difficult to understand their early evolutionary history.
According to Wang, a professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, “Fujianvenator sheds new light about the morphological evolution… in the earliest evolutionary stage of birds” because of its distinctive bone morphologies.
According to the study, lengthened lower legs are characteristic of species that can sprint quickly in contemporary animals, indicating that Fujianvenator may have been a fast runner.
It is a characteristic that wading birds like storks and cranes share with other birds, hence it is conceivable that Fujianvenator lived in a marshy watery habitat.
The discovery of the fossil alongside those of other aquatic and semiaquatic creatures, such as turtles and ray-finned fish, suggests that the creature may have spent time in wetlands.
The study found that some early dinosaurs that resembled birds lived in trees and had a more avian lifestyle.
Despite the absence of feathers in the specimen, Wang said it is quite likely that Fujianvenator had them because its closest dinosaur ancestors had. He continued that it was impossible to tell from the fossil whether the dinosaur that resembled a bird could fly or not.