Scientists Discover the World's Smallest Known Dinosaur to Date Trapped in Amber

The tiny dinosaur's remains are 99 million years old.

Scientists Discover the World's Smallest Known Dinosaur to Date Trapped in Amber
The skull of the Oculudentavis in amber Lida Xing

When you think of dinosaurs you most likely picture roaring T-Rexs or swooping Pterodactyls. However, there were many other, more pocket-sized, dinos that also roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and one such mini dinosaur was just discovered by a team of scientists.

The new species is the first of its kind to be found, and its fossil is plain "weird" as per one of the researchers who found it stated. Up to you to decide what you make of it. The specimen was discovered in Myanmar trapped in amber and is 99 million years old

Their findings were published in Nature on Wednesday.

Mini dinosaur with over 100 teeth

The teeny tiny dinosaur was smaller than our modern-day hummingbird — the smallest living bird. The dinosaur's head is smaller than a thumbnail. We're talking small, very small. 

Regardless of its size, the researchers deducted that it was most likely a predator as it has over 100 teeth. That's a lot of pearly whites in one small space. 

The researchers named the specimen Oculudentavis khaungraae. It represents the smallest dinosaur to have ever been discovered and may shed light on how small birds evolved from dinosaurs, which were typically larger. 


"When I first saw this specimen, it really blew my mind. I literally have never seen anything like this," said Jingmai O'Connor, senior professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and a research associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Scientists Discover the World's Smallest Known Dinosaur to Date Trapped in Amber
An artistic rendition of what the dinosaur may have looked like 99 million years ago, Source: Han Zhixin

It's not just its size and teeth that surprised the scientists, but also its eye structure. 

In the Oculudentavis, the scleral ring of bones that support the eye is spoon-shaped, which is more in line with how lizard eyes operate, and not other birds. Moreover, their eyes pointed out to the sides instead of directly ahead, which would have restricted the amount of sunlight to enter their eyes. This means that they were most likely daytime hunters and had excellent vision. 

Scientists Discover the World's Smallest Known Dinosaur to Date Trapped in Amber
A CT scan of the dinosaur's skull, Source: Li Gang

Professor O'Connor stated "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."

Only the specimen's skull remained in the amber it makes studying the rest of its habits quite tricky.

However, thanks to having been preserved within amber, the specimen is in excellent condition, as if it had been living just yesterday. As co-author of the study, Dr. Luis Chappe from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County said "It's lucky this tiny creature was preserved in amber, as such small, fragile animals aren't common in the fossil record."

He continued "This finding is exciting because it gives us a picture of the small animals that lived in a tropical forest during the age of dinosaurs."

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