March 12, 2020

A Tiny Bird Skull In Amber Expands Research On Smallest Dinosaurs

Smaller than most modern hummingbirds, new research on an amber encased skull is sparking international interest as the “smallest dinosaur” on fossil record.

In a paper published in the scientific journal, Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2068-4), a team of palaeontologists which includes the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s (RSM) Ryan McKellar, reveal a new species of primitive toothed bird which further helps to understand the evolutionary connection between birds and dinosaurs.

“We were able to describe this as a new species based on an exceptionally well-preserved skull in amber, which retained small details like the bony rings that support the eyes, soft tissue of the tongue, and an extensive set of blade-shaped teeth,” McKellar said.  “Together, these features shed light on its ecological position during the Cretaceous period (99 million years ago) and its evolutionary relationships.”

“From uncovering and reassembling the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus, on display in the CN T.rex Gallery, to studying and describing what is perhaps the smallest dinosaur ever identified, the work of scientists at the RSM is as fascinating as it is wide-ranging,” Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Gene Makowsky said.  “At the RSM, there is always the potential of a new discovery on the horizon to amaze us!”

The raw material came from amber mines in Myanmar, which have become important sources of scientific material and this specimen was purchased at an amber market in China by researchers there.  McKellar studied images of the find at the RSM and contributed his special expertise with amber to the scientific paper.  Images of the amber, and an enlarged 3D print of the skull, can be viewed in the RSM lobby.

Regular academic publishing contributes to the RSM’s status as an internationally recognized centre for research and teaching.  To learn more about palaeontological research and other exciting work at the RSM, visit https://royalsaskmuseum.ca/rsm/research.

The article can be found online at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-54400-x.

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