Paleontologists have dug up the bones of a chicken-sized dinosaur that scampered through the Cretaceous forest 70 million years ago, feasting on termites and other insects. The Albertonykus borealis is believed to have lived like an anteater, using strong claws to rip apart logs for insects as food [Globe and Mail]. The dinosaur, found in fossil-rich Alberta, Canada, is the smallest ever discovered in North America.
The small dinosaur looks like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book, said [researcher Nick] Longrich, who called the findings “pretty cool.” … Most of the bones dug up in North America have been from large animals, he said. “Now that we are finally starting to find some of the smaller ones it is suggesting that our picture of the fauna is skewed. We are primarily picking up the big skeletons. They just preserve better” [CBC].
The small dinosaur, described in the journal Cretaceous Research [subscription required], probably ran through the forest on its long legs, and used its stumpy arms with powerful claws to dig for insect prey. [R]esearchers also found evidence for termite borings in fossilized wood discovered in the same area where the mini-dino fossils showed up, also supporting the idea that this dinosaur was a termite eater [LiveScience].
The Canadian dig also gives researchers new evidence of potential migrations of dinosaur populations. The dinosaur is a newly discovered member of the family Alvarezsauridae, from which fossils had previously been dug up only in South America and Mongolia…. The find is evidence that the dinosaurs migrated to Asia from the bottom part of the western hemisphere, Longrich said [Reuters].
Another paleontologist has long argued that the existing fossil record gives us a skewed view of primeval life. The DISCOVER article “A Secret History of Life on Land” reveals one man’s epic attempt to find traces of ancient termites, crustaceans, and worms.
Image: Nick Longrich