The smallest dinosaur that ever lived

Is it a bird? Is it a… No, it’s an Oculudentavis khaungraae, also known as the “eye tooth bird”. © Han Zhixin

A spectacular amber fossil holds the skull of the smallest dinosaur ever found: a bird-like creature that lived more than 99 million years ago and grew no bigger than a bee.

What’s happening

Scientists have discovered the fossilised skull of a tiny dinosaur. The delicate fossil is no longer than a thumbnail, but it is safely preserved in a pebble of glassy amber. They estimate that the creature it belonged to would not have been much larger than a 50p coin, weighing in at just 2g.

Find out more

The fossil, which was discovered in Myanmar, has given scientists new insights into life during the Cretaceous period. The razor-like beak and narrow skull suggest that the dinosaur was a similar size and shape to a bee hummingbird. Rather than feasting on nectar, this tiny creature was almost certainly a predator of small insects. It had more than 100 teeth and bulging eyes that could spot fast-moving prey.

Amber can preserve extremely delicate fossils without damaging them, so we can study small creatures as well as huge dinosaurs. Palaeontologists are now developing technology that will scan fossil DNA, bringing the bird to life by revealing the colour of its feathers and how it flew.

Can we learn anything useful from studying dinosaurs?

Some say…

Not really. While it may be interesting to find unusual creatures from the past, there’s nothing useful we can learn. There are plenty of endangered species to protect today. Rather than spending time, effort, and money learning about extinct species, we should be focussing our efforts on studying living animals and preserving biodiversity now.

Others think…

Of course, we can! Studying dinosaurs means we can learn about how species evolved to survive and thrive in different environments. These creatures were champions of resilience, reigning unchallenged for the better part of 165 million years. By researching these extinct animals we can learn how to preserve ecosystems for future generations.

You Decide

  1. What is your favourite dinosaur?

Activities

  1. Draw an imaginary dinosaur, make up a name for it, and create a fact file.

Some People Say...

“Nature has a habit of placing some of her most attractive treasures in places where it is difficult to locate and obtain them.”

Charles Doolittle Walcott, paleontologist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin, which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times.
Myanmar
A country in Southeast Asia, bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand.
Cretaceous period
A geological period that lasted from about 145 to 66 million years ago. It is the third and final period of the Mesozoic Era and came just after the Jurassic Period.
Bee hummingbird
A species of hummingbird which is the world’s smallest bird. It gets its name because of its size, which is the same as a large bumblebee.
Palaeontologists
Scientists who study prehistoric life. This includes fossils, rocks, and dinosaur remains.
DNA
DNA carries genetic information. It is a chemical made up of two long molecules, arranged in a spiral. We refer to this as the double-helix structure. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid.
Biodiversity
The word used to describe a number of different living species. Experts are slowly realising that the future of our species on Earth depends on maintaining high biodiversity. Biodiversity is important for human wellbeing as it provides food, potential foods, industrial materials, and new medicines.
Resilience
Toughness; the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.
Reigning
Ruling.
Ecosystems
An ecosystem is a natural environment and includes the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) that live and interact within that environment. Flora, fauna, and bacteria are the biotic or living components of the ecosystem.
Fauna
The animals of a particular region, habitat, or geological period are known as fauna. Plants are known as flora.

Subjects

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