An article published in the journal “Scientific Reports” describes the discovery of a new species of winged dinosaur that was named Tongtianlong limosus. The specimen studied was found in the Nanxiong Formation, in the Guangdong province, in south-eastern China, where it lived between 66 and 72 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period.
In recent decades, several dinosaurs with characteristics similar to birds such as feathers and wings have been discovered in China. Tongtianlong limosus was classified as part of the family of oviraptorids (Oviraptoridae), characterized by short snout, absence of teeth and sharp beaks. Several species from the late Cretaceous period have been found in today’s China and Tongtianlong limosus is the sixth species discovered in the Nanxiong Formation.
By examining fossils discovered, it seems that the oviraptorids could be the last group of dinosaurs to diversify before the great extinction occurred at the end of the Cretaceous to which only birds survived. The skeleton of Tongtianlong limosus is almost complete and well preserved despite some damage that followed an explosion due to the fact that it was discovered at a school construction site after an excavation also conducted with the use of dynamite.
The study on the Tongtianlong limosus fossils was conducted by Chinese researchers in collaboration with the Scottish University of Edinburgh. The specimen discovered may have died after being trapped in the mud, in fact its name means “muddy dragon on the road to heaven”. It’s an interpretation of its death but it’s not certain.
Tongtianlong limosus was the size of a sheep and the differences from other oviraptorids are enough to convince the researchers to assign it to a new taxonomic genus. It still shows some typical features of its group such as the ridge made of ornamental feathers, the equivalents of the horns in some modern mammals.
China has been for some time an important country for dinosaur discovery and in particular of species with characteristics similar to birds. In the case of oviraptorids, there could have been a major diversification in a relatively short time in the Cretaceous with the birth of various species such as Tongtianlong limosus.
It’s for these reasons that Dr. Junchang Lü, the paleontologist who led the study, believes that the discovery of Tongtianlong limosus will provide further information on the development, distribution and behavior of oviraptorids. Discoveries like this can really make a strong contribution to the understanding of entire families of animals.