Fossil range: Late Cretaceous, 75 Ma
Shuvuuia is a genus of bird-like theropod dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period of Mongolia. It is a member of the family Alvarezsauridae, small coelurosaurian dinosaurs which are characterized by short but powerful forelimbs specialized for digging. The type (and only known) species is Shuvuuia deserti, or "desert bird". The name Shuvuuia is derived from the Mongolian word shuvuu (шувуу) meaning "bird".
Shuvuuia was a small and lightly built animal. At 60 cm (2ft) in length it is one of the smallest known dinosaurs. The skull is lightly built with long and slender jaws and minute teeth. Shuvuuia is unique among non-avian theropods in the skull's ability to perform prokinesis, that is, it could flex its upper jaw independently of its braincase.
The hindlimbs of Shuvuuia were long, slender, and short-toed, which may indicate significant running capabilities. The forelimbs, however, were unusually short and powerfully constructed. Although originally Shuvuuia and other alvarezsaurids were thought to have only a single digit on the front limb, newer specimens show the presence of reduced second and third fingers in addition to the massively enlarged thumb known from previous specimens. Shuvuuia may have used its forelimbs to open the nests of insects such as termites, and its slender, unusually mobile jaws to probe after insect prey. Ants and several groups of termites had appeared by the Cretaceous.
Fossils of Shuvuuia are currently known from two locations within the Djadochta Formation: Ukhaa Tolgod and Tögrögiin Shiree. These sites are thought to be about 75 million years old (late Campanian age). Contemporary genera included Velociraptor and Protoceratops.
Shuvuuia was the fourth non-avian dinosaur genus that demonstrated direct evidence of feathers. The type specimen was found surrounded by small, hollow, tube-like structures resembling the rachis (central vane) of modern bird feathers. Though highly deteriorated and poorly preserved, biochemical analyses later showed that these structures contain decay products of the protein beta-keratin, and more significantly, the absence of alpha-keratin. While beta-keratin is found in all integumentary (skin and feather) cells of reptiles and birds, only bird feathers completely lack alpha-keratin. These findings show that, though poorly preserved, Shuvuuia likely possessed a coat of feathers.
In popular culture
- ^ Chiappe, L.M., Norell, M. A., and Clark, J. M. (1998). "The skull of a relative of the stem-group bird Mononykus." Nature, 392(6673): 275-278.
- ^ Schweitzer, M.H., J.A. Watt, R. Avci, L. Knapp, L. Chiappe, M. Norell & M. Marshall. (1999). "Beta-keratin specific immunological reactivity in feather-like structures of the Cretaceous alvarezsaurid, Shuvuuia deserti." Journal of Experimental Zoology (Mol Dev Evol), 285: 146-157.