The parrot-like dinosaur Oksoko avarsan lost a finger to evolution –...

The newly discovered dinosaur species Oksoko avarsan most reminiscent of an overgrown, toothless parrot.

With its two meters and its feathered costume, the omnivorous creature lived about 68 million years ago – at the end of the Cretaceous.

In the very first study of this species, which was found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, paleontologists have discovered a very special detail.

A detail that can lead to an increased understanding of the history of evolution.

TWO FINGERS: The development from three to two fingers may have had a connection with the adaptation in the Gobi Desert. According to the researchers, this may mean that they were less dependent on catching prey with their hands.

Foto: © Gregory Funston 2020

Different from the relatives

Oksoko is part of the oviraptor family. But the “newcomer” stands out in a slightly special way. It has, unlike its relatives, only two fingers.

The oviraptors are known to have three fingers, as the hands and grip properties have been an important tool for obtaining food.

– This was very surprising, says Gregory Funston to NRK. He has been researching the new species for the past six years, and was the first to discover that Oksoko was missing a finger.

The British paleontologist believes that the development took place as a result of the oviraptors spreading across the earth. They have managed to adapt to new places and new climates.

Funston believes the group’s ability to develop and adapt gave them a very special advantage in the battle for survival.

Skeletal anatomy of the dinosaur Oksoko avarsan.

THE ANATOMY: Oksoko avarsan was a toothless creature that could be about 2.5 meters long. The large, powerful beak ensured that the species could eat most things.

Foto: © Gregory Funston 2020

Important part of evolution

At the end of the Cretaceous, several dinosaur species were in sharp decline, but this should not have been the case for the oviraptors.

This dinosaur genus was rather prosperous. They were very numerous before the famous Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth – the asteroid known to have led to the mass extinction of dinosaurs.

Paleontologist Lene Liebe Delsett believes that the newly discovered detail of Oksoko says something about the evolution of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous.

– The dinosaur group to which Oksoko belongs, developed rapidly and spread to many new places during this time. This can teach us about how new adaptations develop and how ecosystems work.

WELL PRESERVED: The four skeletons of the young Oksoko dinosaurs were very complete when they were found. Almost all the bones must have been in the right place.

Foto: © Gregory Funston 2020

Illegal excavations

The Gobi Desert in Mongolia, where the dinosaur skeletons of Oksoko were found, is known for housing the fossils of the past. Especially of dinosaurs and early mammals.

Like many other places in the world, this area is also very vulnerable to illegal excavation. The fossils are sold to private players.

This is how the story started Oksoko avarsan. The four skeletons, which British and Mongolian researchers have used in recent years to study, were taken out illegally.

But fortunately, the thieves were stopped before the precious fossils reached the border.

Today, paleontologist Gregory Funston is very grateful for that.

– I had never before witnessed such a complete dinosaur skeleton. The four individuals were found lying together, which may indicate that these young dinosaurs wandered in groups, he says.

Lene Liebe Delsett is just as excited.

– The fossils of Oksoko avarsan are beautiful, imagine they are 70 million years old! Most fossils we find of large animals like this are usually crushed and crushed. Here you can see that the dinosaurs died while lying in a resting position. Maybe they were asleep?

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