‘Mud Dragon’ dinosaur unearthed in China

Tongtianlong limosus artist's illustration (Zhou Chuang)

Tongtianlong limosus artist’s illustration (Zhou Chuang)

A new species of bird–like dinosaur was recently discovered at a construction site in Southern China. Dubbed Tongtianlong limosus, the winged creature had died after becoming mired in mud about 66–72 million years ago– hence it’s nickname, the ‘Mud Dragon.’

Before the well–preserved and near–complete skeleton was discovered, it had been damaged by dynamite while workmen were excavating a school near Ganzhou. Luckily, the workers found it before any more damage had been done.

“They very nearly dynamited it into billions of pieces, but thankfully they placed the dynamite just far enough away from the skeleton that most of it survived the blast,” study co–author Dr. Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh told FoxNews.com. “I wasn’t there when it was found, but they must have realized right away that they had found something important, and it’s great that the fossil was conserved by a museum rather than sold off or auctioned away, where it would have been lost to science forever.”

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The skeleton of the two–legged Tongtianlong limosus (translation “muddy dragon on the road to heaven”) was lying on its back with its neck arched and wings outstretched. It also had a crest of bone on its head that researchers believed may have been used to attract mates or intimidate enemies.

Tongtianlong is the sixth species of the oviraptorosaur dinosaur family, a group of feathered dinos known for their sharp beaks and short, toothless heads. Oviraptors were thriving in the 15 million years before the comet that killed the dinosaurs hit Mexico, and Brusatte believes that the most important thing about the new fossil is that it gives us a glimpse of these last surviving dinosaurs.

“They were still diversifying during those last few million years of the Cretaceous, so they are a sign that dinosaurs were still doing really well right up towards the end,” the paleontologist said. “It was these dinosaurs that were undergoing the final wave of diversification before everything changed that day the asteroid hit.”

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Despite its wings, the Mud Dragon was flightless so it had to rely on its feet to get away from predators such as the big tyrannosaur Qianzhousaurus, which was the top predator in the area at the time. It also had different feeding habits than a lot of its fellow dinosaurs.

“The Mud Dragon didn’t have teeth, but rather a beak, so it wasn’t a traditional meat eater,” Brusatte explained. “It may have eaten small mammals and lizards, but probably also plants, seeds, nuts, shellfish–all kinds of things. It was a classic omnivore, which is maybe one reason that these dinosaurs were so diverse and successful, because they could eat so many things.”

There’s been a wave of dinosaur finds over the last few years in China, with many new dinosaur discoveries emerging from the country every year. Brusatte said that things don’t look to be slowing down, either.

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“Many of these discoveries are not found by professors or academic scientists with PhDs, but by farmers and workmen. This new discovery is a prime example of that. We would never know about it had there not been a building boom in southern China, had these workmen not been on the job that day, or had they not used just the right amount of dynamite to free the skeleton but not destroy it.”

The study can be found in Scientific Reports.