"Mud Dragon" Dinosaur Emerges after 70-Million-Year Slumber in China

A team of Chinese construction workers nearly destroyed a fossil of Tongtianlong limosus while using dynamite to expose bedrock. This recent discovery is one of many recent fossil discoveries in China as development continues in more rural areas.

Tongtianlong limosus, which roughly means "muddy dragon on the road to heaven," received its name from the dramatic pose in which it was found. The fossil of the feathered dinosaur depicted it with its arms and head outstretched, seemingly to escape from the thick mud that ultimately aided its preservation. The dramatic scene was called, "One of the most beautiful, but saddest, fossils I've ever seen," by Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh's School of Geosciences.

The animal lived in the late Cretaceous period, roughly 66 million to 80 million years ago, right before a giant asteroid caused the extinction of the world's remaining dinosaurs. The two-legged creature had flightless wings and is believed to have been omnivorous, feasting on plants along with small mammals and lizards.

Tongtianlong is the sixth member of the family oviraptorosaurs, a group known for the crests on their heads which were used for both attracting mates and intimidating predators. Oviraptorosaurs ranged in size from four to 22 feet long, with the "Muddy Dragon" being around the size of a large sheep or small donkey.

According to Brusatte, the diversity of oviraptorosaurs in a concentrated area demonstrates the diversity of dinosaurs, right up until their extinction. Brusatte says, "They are a sign that dinosaurs were still doing well at this time, still making new species, still dominating ecosystems."

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[H/T National Geographic]