Chinese builders nearly destroy undiscovered ‘mud dragon’ dinosaur with dynamite

11 Nov 2016

Artist’s illustration of the Tongtianlong limosus stuck in the mud. Image: Zhao Chuang

Unbeknownst to a group of Chinese construction workers, a previously undiscovered species of dinosaur called the ‘mud dragon’ was beneath their feet – and they nearly blew it up.

The discovery of the fossilised dinosaur remains were discovered underneath the building site of a school in southern China, and if it hadn’t been for some eagle-eyed people, they could have been lost forever.

According to the University of Edinburgh, the remains found there belonged to a previously unknown species of a bird-like dinosaur, found in a position that suggests it died a rather grisly death.

Future Human

Now named Tongtianlong limosus – meaning ‘muddy dragon on the road to heaven’ – the remains showed the ancient bird died lying on its front with its wings and neck outstretched.

Based on the researchers’ speculation, it is believed that the bird would have died between 66m and 72m years ago after getting bogged down in thick mud, unable to get out.

With its small, toothless head and sharp beak, the mud dragon belonged to the two-legged oviraptorosaur family of dinosaurs, with the addition of a distinctive crest of bone on its head.

While it is hard to tell from fossilised remains, it is believed that the crest may have been used to attract mates and intimidate rivals, like the modern-day cassowary.

Saddest fossil ever seen

In the team’s research paper published in Scientific Reports, they detailed how the bird’s size would have been around the same as a large sheep. This discovery is the sixth member of the oviraptorosaur family to be found in the Ganzhou region.

The fact that the remains were found well preserved and almost complete was something of a miracle, given that they were discovered following the detonation of dynamite at the site.

“This new dinosaur is one of the most beautiful, but saddest, fossils I’ve ever seen,” said Dr Steve Brusatte, who was involved in the research.

“But we’re lucky that the mud dragon got stuck in the muck, because its skeleton is one of the best examples of a dinosaur that was flourishing during those final few million years, before the asteroid came down and changed the world in an instant.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic