Mud Dragon is the sixth known oviraptorosaur from the late Cretaceous Period of this region in China. Although these dinosaurs were all related, each looked distinctive, strongly suggesting that the animals were diversifying - branching off into new species - and flourishing before the asteroid hit occurred.
Some researchers believe that dinosaurs were already in decline and that the asteroid just finished them off, but Brusatte said "that is a bunch of malarkey."
"Everything we see in the fossil record - particularly here in southern China - tells us dinosaurs were flourishing right up to the end," he continued. "There were a bunch of species living together, dominating ecosystems, and still forming new species right up to the final moments."
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Not all of the dinosaurs at that time were bird-like, either. Right up until the very end there were big tyrannosaurs, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs called sauropods, duck-billed dinos, horned plant eaters, smaller omnivores like Mud Dragon and others.
However unfortunate Mud Dragon's individual demise was, its presence, along with that of the other discovered oviraptorosaurs, suggests that southern China was home to many more dinosaurs right before the massive extinction event, said co-author Junchang Lü of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences' Institute of Geology.
Amy Balanoff, a research scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, has also studied dinosaurs similar to Mud Dragon.
"In recent years our knowledge of oviraptorosaur dinosaurs has increased greatly due to the amazingly preserved fossils that are coming out of this region of China, and this specimen is another example," Balanoff told Seeker. She added that these dinosaurs "are anatomically bizarre, having skull proportions that, on first glance, make it difficult to tell the front from the back."
She as well as the authors of the paper are curious about how fast dinosaurs were diverging into new species right before 66 million years ago. It could have been a rapid radiation, or a much slower turnover of species.
"Fortunately, this problem can be addressed as our knowledge of the geology of the formation increases," Balanoff said. "Geologic mapping and dating will certainly help clarify the entire story."
Image: Recreation of the dinosaur Tongtianlong limosus. Credit: Zhao Chuang