ft. Albert Chen / @albertonykus
As a whole, dinosaurs receive no shortage of attention. Yet among the iconic group of two-legged, mostly carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods, there are weirder subgroups that defy expectations.
This includes the alvarezsaurids like Albertonykus, which was only slightly larger than a chicken.
“Alvarezsaurids had an unusual combination of features: slender jaws with numerous small teeth, tiny but well-muscled forelimbs, highly reduced fingers except for a robust thumb, and very long hindlimbs relative to body size,” explains paleontologist Albert Chen.
These peculiar theropods must have had a unique lifestyle, yet little research has been done.
“I find such enigmas more fascinating than charismatic megafauna, even though I hold an appreciation for all of biodiversity,” he admits.
His interest lies in theropods that are most closely related to modern birds. While the early representatives of modern birds survived the mass extinction 66 million years ago, the fossil record is scant.
Though modern birds’ biology informs us about the evolution of their ancestors, fossils give us the clearest evidence of their origins.
“Without paleontology, we probably would never have known that birds are the last surviving dinosaurs, a broader group that included the largest terrestrial animals ever, major players in Earth’s ecosystems for millions of years that were only laid low by a cosmic misfortune.”
“In other words, paleontology reveals not only the evolutionary history of modern organisms, but also the historical context in which they arose. It also shows that our planet has been home to countless fascinating species that didn’t leave any modern descendants.”
Paleontology has also helped Albert better visualize the interconnectedness of life, while showing that what we observe in the modern day is but a snapshot in the eons-old history of Earth.
These wonders of evolution are what Albert wants more people to know about through blogging and cartooning, under his solid ‘brand’ name – Albertonykus.
“When it comes down to why I chose Albertonykus as my user handle over any other alvarezsaurid: yes, the name was the primary reason.”
Albert Chen is a PhD student in biology at the University of Bath. Get to know Albert and the feathered dinosaurs called maniraptorans.
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