Describes Jonah Choiniere from
George Washington University in an interview with BBC News,
"Haplocheirus is a transitional fossil. Previously
we thought the Alvarezsauridae were primitive, flightless
birds. This discovery shows they're not and that the similarities
between them evolved in parallel."
Like birds, the group
of dinosaurs has fused wrists and loosely assembled skull bones,
leading many paleontologists to believe that they might be the
ancestors of birds. The beasts may also have had feathers,
according to analysis in the late 90s and onward.
anatomical analysis of a 3-meter long nearly complete skeleton of a
new species in the group indicates that the group likely diverged
from the line of dinosaurs that evolved into birds, and that the
bird-like features emerged in parallel, not in series. The new
skeleton was dubbed Haplocheirus sollers and was found in the
China's Gobi desert. The skeleton was noticed by a member of a
team excavating in the orange mudstone beds in the Junggar Basin of
the Xinjiang province. The member saw the pelvis of the
dinosaur sticking out of the ground -- and the rest of the skeleton
was found soon after.
Professor Choiniere describes, the
results of the subsequent analysis, stating, "The rest of the
members of this group have really short forelimbs with huge muscle
attachments, like body-builder arms. The fossil shows the first step
in the evolution of this weird arm and claw."
dinosaur is thought to have lived 160 million years ago, making it
the oldest member of the family found to date. Birds and
Alvarezsauridae likely split not long before the evolution of
the new find, say researchers. Both group s likely are
descended from the bird-footed dinosaurs of the early Jurassic, which
include such famous members as the T.
Rex and Velociraptor.
The new find likely was
primarily an insectivore (as evidenced by its small teeth). Its
small claws were quite agile and would have been ideal for digging,
leading researchers to speculate it likely ate termites, which were
plentiful in its era and locale. However, that likely didn't
stop the versatile reptile from trying different cuisine. Describes
Professor Choiniere, "It may have had a very general diet,
tackling smaller animals like lizards, very small mammals and very
small crocodile relatives. It was a lightly built animal and
could run very quickly."
The new work was
reported in the journal Science.
fascinating thing about this find is that it fuels the theory that in
evolution lightning can, and likely will strike twice -- similar
designs can evolve in parallel out of a common need. Thus much
of the anatomy in science fiction -- such as teeth on the titular
Alien or giant wings and feathers of the flying
monsters of Avatar -- may be realistic. If life is
found on other planets similar to Earth, it may show striking
similarities as our own planet's fossil record indicates.