Skull of smallest dinosaur found preserved in 99-million-year-old amber

The skull of the smallest dinosaur ever discovered was found preserved in 99-million-year-old amber.

The tiny dinosaur bird fossil, named oculudentavis khuangraae, was trapped in amber found in Myanmar and is smaller than a bee hummingbird, the smallest living bird, researchers said.

"When we think of dinosaurs, we think of these huge skeletons, but paleontology right now is being completely transformed by the discovery of skeletal fossils, fossils of vertebrates, preserved in amber," Jingmai O'Connor, lead author of the study and professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and research associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told CNN.

The skull has more teeth than other fossil birds, leading to its name. oculudentavis, which means “eye-tooth-bird.” Its full name also honors Khuang Ra, who donated the amber to the Hupoge Amber Museum.

O'Connor and an international team of researchers studied the specimen. Their research was published Wednesday in Nature.

"One of the key messages from this study is that we are probably missing a big chunk of the ecosystem of the dinosaurs," Lars Schmitz,one of the fossil researchers, told CNN. "We don't know a lot about tiny things in the age of the dinosaurs."

In addition to oculudentavis, researchers have found eight fossilized dinosaur birds trapped in amber in recent years.

"It's the weirdest fossil I've ever been lucky enough to study," O'Connor said in a statement. "I just love how natural selection ends up producing such bizarre forms. We are also super lucky this fossil survived to be discovered 99 million years later. Bivalves came very close to destroying the specimen - one of their drill holes goes right into the braincase. Just goes to show the extraordinary circumstances that all need to be just right for fossils to make it into human hands."

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