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STL Science Center
15 January 2016
The Smallest Dinosaur
(C) Nobu Tamura (spinops.blogspot.com)
Anchiornis huxleyi is arguably the smallest dinosaur that ever existed. This ignores extant dinosaurs, but comparing hummingbirds to small avialan dinosaurs is not relevant or easily done in a short blog entry. Dating from the Jurassic of China, specifically around 161 to 160 million years ago, Anchiornis belonged to a group of dinosaurs known as Eumaniraptorans, also called Paraves. This very interesting group of dinosaurs is extremely closely related to the first birds, and Anchiornis is one of the absolute closest dinosaurs to the first animals we recognize definitively as birds. Anchiornis actually means "near bird" when translated. The specific epithet is in honor of one of the strongest early proponents of the theory of evolution. This naming makes sense in light of the position of Anchiornis along the line to true birds as the littlest dinosaur was clearly in an interesting anatomical position of possessing bird and dinosaur traits and some that were mixtures of the two. Feathers, wings, evidence of color, long limbs, bird-like heads with dinosaurian teeth (and other characteristics) all mark Anchiornis as an extremely intriguing taxon. The description of Anchiornis in 2009 was, and still is, an important landmark in studying birds, dinosaurs, and all the vertebrate life on this planet.