News / Science & Technology

Classic Jurassic - Dazzling Chinese Fossils Offer Portal into the Past

The feathered dinosaur Epidexipteryx, with inset showing additional feathers and soft tissues revealed by the use of UV light. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
The feathered dinosaur Epidexipteryx, with inset showing additional feathers and soft tissues revealed by the use of UV light. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
Reuters
A spectacular array of beautifully preserved fossils unearthed in northeastern China over the past two decades provides a unique portal on life 160 million years ago in the Jurassic Period, an international team of scientists said this week.
 
Among them are outlandish feathered dinosaurs, a quirky flying reptile, the earliest known gliding mammal, the earliest known swimming mammal - and a salamander that turned up everywhere.
 
Writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, they said the plant and animal fossils collectively represent a distinct ecological grouping - or biota - of life forms that existed alongside one another.
 
The fossil record of life on Earth is notoriously spotty, with some spans of time remaining all but unknown. That is not the case in what these scientists call the Daohugou Biota, named for a village in the region the fossils have been found.
 
“It is an unprecedentedly good window into that particular place and time,” paleontologist Corwin Sullivan of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, who led the research, said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
 
Reconstruction of the Daohugou fauna featuring feathered dinosaurs, pterosaurs, early mammals and amphibians among others. Original artwork by Dr Julia Molnar. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
Reconstruction of the Daohugou fauna featuring feathered dinosaurs, pterosaurs, early mammals and amphibians among others. Original artwork by Dr Julia Molnar. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
“It is a time when a lot of interesting things are happening,” paleontologist David Hone of Queen Mary University of London added in a telephone interview. “We've got feathered dinosaurs. We've got weird mammals. We've got fish. We've got lizards. We've got all this wonderful, wonderful stuff.”
 
The fossils have been found in western Liaoning Province and nearby areas. It was an inland region filled with trees, dotted with lakes and teeming with life 160 million years ago.
 
The level of preservation has been exceptional, with only a handful of other places in the world offering fossils as good.
 
Soft tissue
 
Scientists count themselves lucky if even the hard parts of an animal like bones and teeth become fossils. In the Daohugou Biota, many show soft tissue including feathers, fur, skin and, in some of salamanders, even delicate external gills.
 
The Jurassic is the second of three time periods that make up the Mesozoic Era, sometimes called the Age of Dinosaurs. The Triassic preceded it and the Cretaceous followed it.
 
Fossil of the salamander Chunerpeton showing not only the preserved skeleton but also the skin and even external gills. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)Fossil of the salamander Chunerpeton showing not only the preserved skeleton but also the skin and even external gills. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
x
Fossil of the salamander Chunerpeton showing not only the preserved skeleton but also the skin and even external gills. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
Fossil of the salamander Chunerpeton showing not only the preserved skeleton but also the skin and even external gills. (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)
The animals and plants of the Daohugou Biota were found in the same part of China as a group of similarly amazing fossils that are 30 million years younger, from the Cretaceous. Those later remains - including primitive birds and more feathered dinosaurs - comprise what is called the Jehol Biota.
 
The Daohugou Biota includes the earliest dinosaurs preserved with feathers. Some, like Epidendrosaurus and Epidexipteryx, are remarkably bird-like.
 
Scientists say birds evolved from small, feathered meat-eating dinosaurs. The earliest known bird is Archaeopteryx, from 150 million years ago. Scientists are eager to find even earlier birds and think this might be an ideal place to look.
 
“You've got a bunch of very bird-like dinosaurs. We do not yet have a definitive bird there,” Hone said. “It's the best possible place we have got anywhere to find a true bird older than Archaeopteryx. That will be the place.”
 
One of the ways the scientists were able to determine that fossils from the Daohugou Biota belonged together was that one particular salamander called Chunerpeton kept popping up, indicating the varied remains represented one place and time.
 
The scientists said a pterosaur - flying reptile - called Darwinopterus is considered a “transitional” form. It possessed features of more primitive pterosaurs like a long tail and those of later, more advanced ones like a big head.
 
The mammal Volaticotherium boasted a membrane between its arms and legs that enabled it to glide from trees. It was the Jurassic equivalent of a flying squirrel - except that today's flying squirrels do not have to steer clear of dinosaurs.
 
Another mammal, Castorocauda, was semi-aquatic and looked a bit like a beaver. It had a broad scaly tail - like a beaver's - and webbed feet for swimming but belonged to a completely different and now extinct group of mammals.

You May Like

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid