Oriental Ornithopods – Enter the Dragons

By | January 17th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|1 Comment

New Species of Plant-Eating Dinosaur From China

The Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, is rapidly approaching and true to form a new dinosaur species is discovered in China.  This part of Asia could lay claim to being the most prolific location on the planet for new dinosaur discoveries at the moment.  Over the last twenty or so years, more new types of dinosaur have been discovered and named than in the proceeding two hundred years.  This new dinosaur, described as a member of the Ornithopoda (bird-hipped dinosaurs – Ornithischians) adds greatly to the current knowledge of this type of Chinese dinosaur, as up until now only a handful of Chinese Ornithopods have been scientifically described.

The dinosaur jointly researched by a team of Chinese and Japanese scientists has been named Yueosaurus tiantaiensis.  A paper detailing the  research work has been published in the scientific journal “Cretaceous Research”.

Known from just a single, well-preserved but incomplete specimen Y. tiantaiensis is believed to have been less than a metre tall, and little more than 1.5 metres long.  It has been described as a basal Ornithopod.  The fossils of these type of dinosaurs have been found on all continents but fossil specimens from China are rare.  These animals possessed beaks, were probably mainly vegetarian but some species may have eaten insects and small vertebrates.  They had hind legs longer than their front legs, and were probably facultative bipeds, (running on hind legs usually, but moving around on all fours if required).  Most basal Ornithopods were gracile and small although their descendants were to become the most widespread and common large plant-eating dinosaurs by the Late Cretaceous.

An Illustration of a Typical Basal Ornithopod

Fast running, new species of Chinese Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The original fossil material was found in 1998 when construction workers uncovered the remains of this small dinosaur during a road building project in Tiantai county,  in the eastern province of Zhejiang.  The location where this prehistoric herbivore’s remains were found was the inspiration behind the specific name of this dinosaur.  The fossils were intensively studied at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History and it was from this analysis that the joint Sino/Japanese team were able to ascribe the remains to an entirely new species.

Yueosaurus Tiantaiensis lived during the Cretaceous geological period.  The fossils associated with this dinosaur were removed from strata approximately 100 million years old (Albian faunal stage).  The full name of this new dinosaur, one of half a dozen new species described from Zhejiang province in the last twelve months; means “Tiantai Yue Dinosaur” in Chinese, as it was discovered in the present-day Tiantai county and the region used to be the territory of the ancient state of Yue.  So the name reflects both modern and ancient China.

The new species represents the southernmost basal Ornithopod dinosaur discovered to date on the continent of Asia.  It is surprising how few of this type of dinosaur is known from China, especially given the extensive fossil record of animals such as the related Hypsilophodontids from North America and Europe.  It could be that small Ornithopods are rare in Asia when compared to the northern hemisphere for example, or there could be a bias in the fossil record with these small dinosaurs, perhaps being under-represented in the fossil record.

The closest living analogs to dinosaurs such as  Y. tiantaiensis are wallabies, deer and small antelope.  Fossilised burrows found in North America and what would have been the polar regions of Australia suggest that some types of small Ornithopods may have lived underground.