It was hoped that the fossil of a tiny, feathered
dinosaur which lived 124 million years ago in what is now China
could reveal clues about the origins of bird flight.
The creature, named Microraptor, closed the
gap in the fossil record between large meat-eating dinosaurs and
what at the time was thought to be the earliest bird,
Archaeopteryx. The crow-sized dinosaur did not fly but had
clawed feet that it probably used to climb trees.
The discovery added weight to the theory that small
dinosaurs took to the branches to escape predators, gradually
developing flight along the way. Other scientists were arguing that
fast-running, bipedal dinosaurs evolved the wings, feathers, and
muscle structure needed to take off from the ground.
The Microraptor fossil came from a rock
formation in western Liaoning, north-eastern China, a location
which has yielded more than a thousand specimens of early birds
and feathered dinosaurs.
Xing Xu from the Institute of Vertebrate
Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) at the Chinese Academy
of Sciences, Beijing, said a local farmer had collected the fossil.
Xing Xu first saw it in a private collection - in the farmer's house.
Then with the help of his farmer friend, the IVPP were able to
Scientific scrutiny revealed an adult creature
about the size of a crow, with curved claws similar to those used by
perching birds. Microraptor was classified as the smallest
non-flying member of the theropods, two-legged meat-eaters that
walked the planet between 230 million and 66.4 million years ago.
The find further shortened the morphological gaps between
dinosaurs and birds. It suggested that the paleoecology - the
ecology of prehistoric organisms - for some bird-like dinosaurs
was similar to that of early birds.