by Lucas Joel Thursday, February 9, 2017
Paleontologists have discovered a new species of oviraptorosaur, a group of strange bird-like dinosaurs without teeth. The species, Tongtianlong limosus, has been described based on a specimen preserved in mudstone dating to the end of the Cretaceous. The find adds to a growing list of newly unearthed and similarly aged oviraptorosaur species, suggesting the group flourished during the last few million years of the Age of Dinosaurs before all nonavian dinosaurs were killed off in the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.
“It’s a type of bizarre, sheep-sized, beaked, feathered omnivorous dinosaur,” says Stephen Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and an author of a new study in Scientific Reports announcing the discovery. As it was found, the skeleton of T. limosus had outstretched arms, splayed limbs and a raised head — gestures that Brusatte and his colleagues speculate resulted from the animal becoming stuck in mud.
“Amazingly, it is the sixth new species of oviraptorosaur found in the same small area of southern China over the past few years, as construction crews have been blasting through the area laying foundations and building roads,” he says. The rapid rate of oviraptorosaur discoveries likely means this group of dinosaurs was “doing very well,” Brusatte says. The researchers think that each of the new dinosaurs are unique species — not just different forms of the same species — because each possesses skeletal traits unseen in its relatives. For instance, T. limosus has a “highly convex premaxilla [upper jaw bone] that is unique among oviraptorosaurs,” they wrote in the study. This diverse group was, Brusatte says, “part of that final wave of dinosaur diversification before the asteroid changed history forever.”
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