Best-preserved dinosaur skeleton ever found in Europe

Monday, July 2, 2012

The skeleton of a bushy-tailed baby dinosaur that roamed Earth 135 million years ago has been found in Europe. The creature had little 'fuzzy' feathers, almost like hairs. Named Sciurumimus after the tree squirrel species Sciurus, it is the best preserved dinosaur remains ever discovered in Europe.
At just 72 cms (28 inches) long, the fanged predator looks like a tiny T-Rex. It is believed to have been a year-old hatchling and had a large skull, short hind limbs and smooth skin.
Its vivid compression with mouth wide open also bears the outline of sharp, serrated little teeth and primitive fuzzy feathers that are more akin to hair.
These were over its front, below the belly, and back as well as the tail, suggesting the animal's whole body could have been covered in feathers. It is impossible to say exactly what killed the animal, but it has been speculated that it may have drowned.
Previously reported fossils of feathered killer dinosaurs belonged to a group called coelurosaurs that are closely related to birds and from which T Rex and other meat-eating beasts evolved.
But Sciurumimus albersdoerferi - dug up out of limestone rock at a quarry near Kelheim in Bavaria, southern Germany, in 2009 - was a megalosauroid which were members of the theropods.
Dr Oliver Rauhut said: ‘Here we report an exceptionally preserved skeleton of a juvenile megalosauroid, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi, from the Late Jurassic of Germany, which preserves a filamentous plumage at the tail base and on parts of the body. ‘The specimen is preserved in complete articulation, lying on its right side.’
Fossils of theropods - which include T Rex - are rare and usually fragmented. The best T Rex specimens are about 80 percent preserved whereas Sciurumimus is about 98 percent intact.
Dr Rauhut, curator of the Bavarian Paleontological and Geological Collections (BSPG) in Munich, led an international team that examined the animal.
He said: ‘This is one of the most complete dinosaur skeletons ever found worldwide. When I first saw it, it was hard to believe it was real because it was so well preserved. ‘It looked as if it had been made by someone to hang in their living room. But tests quickly showed it was genuine.’
He said the find was of ‘outstanding scientific importance’ because of the completeness of the skeleton, the presence of hair-like filamentous structures and its youth. Dr Rauhut said: ‘It is very difficult to say how large the animal would have grown to as an adult. One can't rule out it would have been up to eight or nine metres long but it could also have just been two or three metres.’
The large size of the skull in proportion to the rest of the body was a sure sign it had been very young when it died, he said. Examinations of juvenile theropods can help shed light on the mechanisms of evolution because recent research indicates changes in the processes of growing played an important role in how creatures evolved.
The bones of the theropod are even better preserved than those of feathered dinosaurs found in China in the 1990s. Those are the only ones which are similarly complete, but they are millions of years younger, saud the researchers whose findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr Rauhut said: ‘The great thing about this discovery is the preservation of the bones. Similarly complete skeletons were found in China of feathered dinosaurs. ‘They look great from afar but if you study them under the microscope, you can see that the bone preservation isn't that great.’
Hair on dinosaurs has been a focus of research because it could have developed into the feathers that were first detected on fossils of Archaeopteryx, the oldest known bird, which were found in Germany in the 19th century. That discovery suggested dinosaurs may have evolved into birds.
Dr Rauhut said: ‘This new theropod is probably the most significant fossil found on German soil since the discoveries of the original bird Archaeopteryx.’
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