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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More