Tiny feathered dinosaurs have been flocking in the scientific literature this year. We're only halfway through 2017 and in the past few months along we've had Zhongjianosaurus and Jianianhualong start fluttering around the increasingly-crowded family tree of small raptors found from the Early Cretaceous of China. Now paleontologist Shen Cai-zhi and colleagues have proposed another - Liaoningvenator curriei.

This new dinosaur carries similar basic stats as many other feathered dinosaurs announced from China in recent years. It was found in the roughly 125 million year old strata around Liaoning, China, and is represented by a near-complete, articulated skeleton. It's a cute little dinosaur, all snugged up on itself.

What sets Liaoningvenator apart from similar dinosaurs, Shen and coauthors report, is a unique combination of traits in the skull, limbs, hips, and tail. Still, it's quite similar to a previously-named dinosaur called Eosinopteryx and is yet another small, fluffy troodontid that was strutting around China during the Early Cretaceous. This has started to puzzle paleontologists. Have experts named too many dinosaurs from similar skeletons? Are all these little dinosaurs really different, but were separated by time, geography, or ecology? The mystery is only highlighted by each new find.

And that's not all. There's something strange about Liaoningvenator. Most articulated dinosaurs are found with their heads and tails titled up over their backs. This is the classic opisthotonic death pose. But Liaoningvenator is curled forward, head practically on its knees. This doesn't quite match the bird-like sleeping posture that some other related dinosaurs have been found in, either. What was little Liaoningvenator doing when it died? For now, the answer is held by Cretaceous time. 

Liaoningvenator. Credit: Shen et al 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Liaoningvenator curriei

Meaning: Liaoningvenator means "Liaoning hunter", in reference to the place where the dinosaur was found. The species name curriei honors paleontologist Phil Currie.

Age: Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Liaoning, China.

What sort of organism?: A troodontid dinosaur.

How much of the organism’s is known?: A nearly-complete, articulated skeleton.


Shen, C., Zhao, B., Gao, C., Lü, J., Kundrát, M. 2017. A new troodontid dinosaur (Liaoningvenator curriei gen. et sp. nov.) from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation in Western Liaoning Province. Acta Geoscientica Sinica. doi: 10.3975/cagsb.2017.03.06

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The Rio do Rasto Tooth
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