This tiny skull trapped in amber belongs to the smallest dinosaur ever discovered

The tiny skull, about the size of a thumbnail, trapped in amber may belong to the smallest dinosaur scientists have ever discovered. Paleontologist Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences spotted the skull in a 99-million-year-old chunk of amber from northern Myanmar. From the New York Times:

[Xing, Chinese Academy of Sciences paleontologist Jingmai O’Connor, and their colleagues] called the bird Oculudentavis khaungraae — a name that comes from the Latin words for eye, teeth and bird. The dinosaur’s skull is only 14.25 millimeters, or a little more than half an inch, from its beak to the end of its skull. The animal had bulbous eyes that looked out from the sides of its head, rather than straight ahead like the eyes of an owl or a human.

“We were able to show that this skull is even smaller than that of a bee hummingbird, which is the smallest dinosaur of all time — also the smallest bird,” O’Connor said. “This is a tiny skull, and it’s just preserved absolutely pristinely"....

Most scientists now believe that birds are theropods, dinosaurs of a group that included tyrannosaurus and spinosaurus, but that birds were on their own evolutionary branch from a common ancestor. Paleontologists have long assumed that as birds evolved away from other dinosaurs, having teeth was a trait that was in the process of disappearing altogether. “But this specimen strongly shows that evolution’s really going in all different directions,” Dr. O’Connor said.

More at Nature: "Tiny bird fossil might be the world’s smallest dinosaur"

image: Lida Xing