Dragon dinosaur met a muddy end

Feathered oviraptorosaurs surged at the end of the age of dinosaurs

illustration of a mud dragon

TRAPPED  This birdlike feathered dinosaur with a bony crest on its skull is one of several oviraptorosaur species from the time just before the asteroid hit (illustration shown).

Zhao Chuang

A bizarre new birdlike dino was part of an evolutionary extravaganza at the end of the age of dinosaurs. And it was a real stick-in-the-mud, too.

Construction workers blasted Tongtianlong limosus out of the Earth near Ganzhou in southern China. “They very nearly blew this thing to smithereens,” says paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The find is one of six oviraptorosaur species discovered from roughly the same place and time — around 72 million to 66 million years ago. Like its feathered cousins, Tongtianlong walked on two legs and had a sharp beak. But each species had distinct skeletal quirks. Tongtianlong, for one, had a bony, domelike crest on its skull. Oviraptorosaurs were churning out lots of new species during the last stage of the Cretaceous Period, Brusatte says. Tongtianlong was part of “the final wave of dinosaur diversification before the asteroid came down and ended everything.”

This particular fossilized animal lies in a bed of reddish-purple mudstone, preserved in an unusually awkward position: head stuck out, neck arched, wings outspread. It may have died after a desperate struggle to free itself from mud, researchers suggest November 10 in Scientific Reports. That’s actually how the dinosaur gets its name: Tongtianlong limosus is a mix of Chinese Pinyin and Latin meaning “muddy dragon on the road to heaven.”

oviraptor fossil
AWKWARD POSTURE This fossil shows a Late Cretaceous dinosaur preserved in an unusual, splayed position that may reflect a struggle to escape from mud. Junchang Lü/Scientific Reports 2016

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