Fossilized remains of birdlike dinosaur found in China

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Oviraptor illustration, another bird-like dinosaur from the same family, Oviraptoridae.
Image: Matt Martyniuk.

Scientists in China have unearthed the fossilized remains of a bird like dinosaur in the Erlian Basin that was as big as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The measurements put the fossil, now named Gigantoraptor elrianensis, at 16 feet tall and 26 feet (8 meters) long, weighing in at an estimated over 3,000 pounds (1,400 kilograms) when it was alive. It is said to have had a beak, feathers and its closest relative would have been the Caudiperyx, which is 35 times smaller than the newly discovered fossil. It is estimated to have roamed Earth during the Cretaceous Period about 70 million years ago.

"We think it's the largest feathered animal ever to have been discovered. This is like having a mouse that is the size of a horse or cow. It is very important information for us in our efforts to trace the evolution process of dinosaurs to birds. It’s more complicated than we imagined," said one of the paleontologists who made the discovery, Xu Xing from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology.

Previous theories about dinosaurs were that they got smaller before they evolved into birds. But the new discovery could mean the exact opposite, that dinosaurs got larger before becoming smaller.

"Almost every group [of dinosaurs] that has evolved has tended to evolve giant forms,"said University of Alberta paleontologist, Philip Currie.

Scientists are not sure whether the dinosaur was a herbivore or a carnivore, because it has both claws, and a long neck with a small head. The scientists also originally thought the remains were of a T. Rex.