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This just has to be the saddest fossil in prehistory

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Fossil is an example of a transitional creature between dinosaurs and birds.

It may be the saddest dinosaur fossil ever discovered, a birdlike creature that suffered a slow, agonizing death, stuck in mud. But it may also be one of the greatest fossil finds in recent history, giving scientists a glimpse into evolutionary history and the evolution of birds.

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LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Between 66 and 72 million years ago, a prehistoric creature, not quite bird, and not quite dinosaur, became stuck in the mud. The creature struggled to free itself, but in vain. Eventually the critter died of exhaustion and became fossilized into the mud. Now, millions of years later, its has been uncovered by workers in Southern China.

Workers in southern China were excavating a site to build a school when a dynamite blast uncovered the fossil. The creature is a previously undiscovered species that was named Tongtianlong limosus, which means


Its name is poetic, but its death was probably slow and agonizing. The creature, mired in mud and unable to escape, likely struggled until it died from exhaustion. The fossil's wings are forward and outstretched, in a final, failed attempt to pull itself free.

Tongtianlong is the first example of its species, but others from its family have been found elsewhere in China, where these primitive ancestors of birds evolved from dinosaurs. About five other creatures in the same family have been found.

Like its cousins, Tongtianlong has no teeth, but a sharp beak instead. This beak allowed it to eat other foods besides meat as its ancestors did. The ability to easily eat a more varied diet increased the species chances for survival. The creature is quite large, about the size of a large sheep.

The creature also had feathers, which scientists now know evolved from scales. Feathers allowed some creatures to live in high places, out of reach of predators. These first feathered dinosaurs were incapable of flight, they allowed creatures to float or flutter to the ground rather than fall. This conferred an evolutionary advantage on those species which developed feathers.


The fossil has been dated to a time between 66 and 72 million years ago, so that means it perished before the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Because of this, scientists are getting a glimpse of a species at a time when it was emerging and diversifying, and right before it was possibly wiped out.

Tongtianlong is a remarkable example of a transitional species, confirming the link between dinosaurs and birds. Of course, every example of a species is theoretically transitional, since evolution is constantly at work. Still, while we cannot ever replicate the entire chain of a species, link-by-link (an absurd notion) we can observe snapshots taken along the evolutionary path, much like snapshots of a growing child in a photo album. A mere glance is all it takes to see the change over time. Tongtianlong is just such an example.

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