A new dinosaur species has been identified, and it's a birdlike creature (pictured) that's 15 million years older than the first bird. Haplocheirus sollers is another dinosaur whose proto-bird characteristics make it a possible precursor to birds.
There's so little evidence from the fossil record during the time that birds evolved that scientists have debated whether birds evolved from dinosaurs, or independently. Haplocheirus, possessing some characteristics of a flightless bird while still being undeniably a dinosaur, is an important clue in solving this mystery.
A group of Chinese paleontologists published a paper about the new dinosaur yesterday in Science, and a release about their work explains:
A new member of a peculiar group of dinosaurs, the long-legged, stubby-armed alvarezsauroids, is 63 million years older than other known members of this group, making it an important early member of the lineage that includes birds and their closest theropod relatives, researchers report. The alvarezsauroids are relatively small, bipedal dinosaurs, and until this new fossil discovery, all the known examples lived during the Late Cretaceous Period. One of the most unusual characteristics of these Cretaceous alvarezsauroids was the single, massive claw on each hand that was probably used for digging . . . Haplocheirus is the largest known alvarezsauroid, implying that a pattern of miniaturization occurred over time. Also, Haplocheirus' hands have three fingers, the middle one much longer than the other two. The authors propose that over time, these fingers fused into the giant claw that became a trademark of the Cretaceous alvarezsauroids.
In other cool dinosaur news, also published in Science, a group of paleontologists studied the pigments from 125-million-year old dinosaur feathers from the Sinosauropteryx and others. Turns out these feathery creatures possessed melanosomes containing eumelanin, which creates a grey and black color in feathers, as well as pheomelanin, which creates reddish-brown hues. Here is an artist's conception, from Science, of the coloration of the Sinosauropteryx. I think they might be . . . dancing?