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Dinosaur fossil find in Fujian a game changer

By Yan Dongjie | | Updated: 2024-05-10 23:17
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The largest known Deinonychosaur is depicted in this artist's recreation. The extinct dinosaur species' tracks were recently found in Fujian province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese and foreign scientists in Fujian province have discovered large dinosaur tracks, which they said are the largest known Deinonychosaur tracks ever found and have led to the establishment of a new footprint genus species.

A paper on the discovery was published in the academic journal iScience last month.

The research team found that at the large Late Cretaceous (110.5-66 million years ago) dinosaur track site discovered in Shanghang county, Longyan, there are some large Deinonychosaur tracks, with the extinct species estimated to be at least 5 meters in body length and nearly 2 meters in hip height, comparable in size to the South China Tyrannosaur and the Utahraptor, two fearsome dinosaur species previously discovered.

A team of Chinese and foreign scientists led by the China University of Geosciences (Beijing) and the Fujian Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum announced the discovery on Monday.

In 2020, the museum and the university worked as a joint scientific expedition team to search for dinosaur fossils in Fujian. Last year, the expedition team named the large Late Cretaceous dinosaur track site discovered in Shanghang as the "Fujian Longxiang Dinosaur Track Group", and the related paper was published in the academic journal Cretaceous Research.

Xing Lida, an associate professor at the university, said that the footprint site has a large area, good preservation and strong diversity. Currently, at least eight dinosaur species have been identified, including large sauropods, theropods and others. Among them, there are 12 two-toed theropod dinosaur footprints, which can be clearly divided into two types of Deinonychosaurs based on their size and morphology.

Deinonychosaurs lived from the Jurassic period (199.6-145.5 million years ago) to the Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago). Their second toe on the hind foot has a large sickle-shaped claw, and the killing claw is usually lifted up during movement, leaving a two-toed footprint composed of the third and fourth toes on the ground.

Xing said that among the discovered two-toed footprints, the larger two-toed footprints have an average length of about 36.4 centimeters and a width of 16.9 cm — far exceeding the length of the previously discovered Shandong Deinonychosaur footprints, which are 28.5 cm, making them the largest Deinonychosaur footprints ever found.

"From a morphological perspective, the large two-toed footprints of Longxiang do not match the characteristics of all previously established Deinonychosaur footprint genera," he said. Based on research needs, the team established a new footprint classification group and named this type of footprint Fujianipus yingliangi, which is likely a footprint left by a large megalosaurid dinosaur.

Renowned dinosaur expert Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom said: "In mid-Cretaceous Asia, large allosauroids gradually disappeared, and the iconic dinosaur groups of Tyrannosaur and large Deinonychosaur seemed to be vying for the crown of medium-sized predators. The maker of the Fujianipus yingliangi footprint was one bold attempt in this competition."

Niu Kecheng, director of the Fujian Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum, believes that the discovery of Fujianipus yingliangi greatly expands the size range of Deinonychosaur footprints, demonstrating the research potential of the Fujian Longxiang Dinosaur Track Site and its significant importance for the study of Late Cretaceous dinosaur fauna in China.

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