San Diego Paleontologist Helps Discover New Species Of Dinosaur
At the San Diego Natural History Museum, a visitor might find paleontologist Ashley Poust firing up a tiny jackhammer. He uses to chip away rock surrounding a fossil.
"Even though it looks scary vibrating at that speed, it wouldn’t hurt you unless you really stuck yourself with it," Poust said.
Poust is familiar with digging up, cleaning and analyzing fossils. So, when he looked at a fossil found by a farmer in China over a decade ago, he could tell it had the remains of a new species of dinosaur.
Poust is among a team of scientists who has discovered this 120-million-year-old creature in a fossil found by the farmer. The discovery is described in a study published in the journal The Anatomical Record.
"Many of the details matched up with other small, feathered dinosaurs that have been known from these rich fossil deposits in China. But there were other little details that were new and had never been seen in any other dinosaur," Poust said.
This new species is called Wulong Bohaiensis, which is a reference to the Chinese word for “dancing dragon.” Poust and his colleagues chose this name to describe how graceful the specimen looked in the fossil when it was found. The dinosaur was solidified into the rock at what Poust calls a "teenage" state. The dinosaur, which is one of the earliest relatives of the Velociraptor, has a bony tail and another important characteristic.
"So our specimen does have feathers. It has dino-fuzz or fluff tiny ploom-like feathers all over the place," Poust said. "This is a period that was much warmer than today, but cooler than the rest of the time of the dinosaurs and so that’s really interesting to think about how the origin of feathers might have been related to these changes in temperature."
Poust looked at cross-sections of the dinosaur’s bones to confirm it’s a new species, a practice known as "histology."
"Even though the specimen is 120 million years old — that’s twice as old as the T-Rex almost — the bones are so well preserved that you can see when you cut it up the cells that were present and the spaces in the bone where the blood vessels ran," he said.
Poust says the rate of dinosaur discoveries have increased in the last five years thanks to more advanced technology and greater search efforts worldwide. The Wulong fossil now sits in the Dalian Natural History Museum in China.