Welcome back to the Mesozoic Mailbag! As a quick refresher, this series is dedicated to the latest species, specimens and research within the field of paleontology. This edition will include the top headlines for March and April of 2020. With this brief summary out of the way, shall we begin?
The Mystery Head
Was it the skull of a dinosaur? Or rather, a small lizard? That was the debate at the forefront of paleontology upon the discovery of a small animal skull encased in amber. While the 99 million-year old skull was initially interpreted as the head of a Dinosaur, critics have been quick to point out the substantial lack of dinosaurian features present on the skull. The presence of multiple skeletal anomalies has led some to believe that the skull was not in fact a dinosaur, but rather a species of lizard. If this is the case, the name Oculudentavis, meaning “eye tooth bird”, would be rather inconvenient for those trying to understand its placement on the tree of life! Regardless of its taxonomy, the skull of Oculudentavis was an astonishing find; it’s a skull trapped in amber! For a more in-depth analysis of Oculudentavis, check out my full interpretation of this awesome find.
A Look Inside a Dinosaur Egg
While dinosaur egg fragments are becoming increasingly well studied, the embryos within the eggs have remained somewhat of a mystery. The enigma of what lies within a dinosaur egg is only now starting to be uncovered, due in large part to the advancing technology within the field of paleontology. Paleontologists from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg have managed to use high-powered X-ray devices to glance inside the 200-million-year-old eggs of the prosauropod Massospondylus. Based on the analysis of the fossil embryos, the team discovered that the embryos possessed a series of embryonic teeth commonly found in bird and reptile species alive today. The presence of these teeth demonstrates the close relation that dinosaurs share with both birds and reptiles, even after 200 million years of separate evolution. Additionally, the detail of the fossils allow the embryos to be dated well, with most being at about sixty percent through their development. As someone who has managed to see the eggs studied firsthand, the research performed on the embryos within is a ground-breaking development for the understanding of infant dinosaur biology.
Evidence of Dinosaur DNA?
It turns out that finding dinosaur DNA may not be as complicated as Jurassic Park made it out to be. The discovery of two juvenile Hypacrosaurus, members of the Hadrosaurid family, have revealed the presence of what seems to be genetic material of the dinosaur. Closer analysis of the fossils has revealed the presence of cells, with some even undergoing mitosis (the process of cellular division) as well as areas of condensed genetic material associated with the animals’ DNA. While it may seem far-fetched, dinosaur DNA may have been discovered previously in one of the most controversial fossils of all time. Unfortunately, for those who want to resurrect a dinosaur, it is unclear as to whether or not the DNA has been corrupted or altered by outside forces, and even then, it will be impossible to use the sample to create life. Then again, who cares? This is dinosaur DNA! Even if it can’t be used to fulfil your dream of having a dinosaur in the backyard, there are still plenty of applications for this tremendous find.
There you have it folks, the second edition of the Mesozoic Mailbag. While some other interesting research has come out in the last few months, such as the discovery of a new raptor species closely related to Velociraptor, I try to restrict my choices to the three I found most interesting. With this in mind, I hope you found this article interesting and informative. The third edition will be released mid-June, with more articles being published in-between.
Remember to stay safe and continue practising social distancing during these trying times.
DNA found Here
Massospondylus eggs found here
Oculudentavis in amber found here
Bailleul, Alida, and Wenxia Zheng. “Hints of Fossil DNA Discovered in Dinosaur Skull.” National Geographic, 3 Mar. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/03/hints-of-dna-discovered-in-a-dinosaur-fossil/
Greshko, Michael. “Smallest-Ever Fossil Dinosaur Found Trapped in Amber.” National Geographic, 12 Mar. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/03/smallest-ever-fossil-dinosaur-found-trapped-in-amber/
Li, Zhiheng, et al. “Is Oculudentavis a Bird or Even Archosaur?” BioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 18 Mar. 2020, www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.16.993949v1.full
Wu, Katherine J. “Digital Reconstructions Reveal 200-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Embryo’s Unusual Teeth.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 13 Apr. 2020, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/digital-reconstructions-reveal-200-million-year-old-dinosaur-embryos-unusual-teeth-180974661/