A small bird-like dinosaur that lived between 81 and 75 million years ago had impeccable hearing and night vision that would have allowed it to hunt prey at night. Named Shuvuuia deserti, this creature had muscular arms, a single claw on each hand, and long legs.
The creature’s hearing and night vision was a lot better than other dinosaurs and even the majority of today’s birds. In fact, it has been compared to owls. While the remains were found in the middle part of the 1990s, experts only recently conducted in-depth analysis on its inner ear bones.
During their analysis, Jonah Choiniere from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa as well as his colleagues found that the creature’s inner ear contained a very big lagena. This structure was responsible for how well it could hear and the larger it was, the better hearing creatures had. But this one in particular was much larger than any they have previously found in any type of dinosaur.
They even went a step further and compared its inner ear structure to over a hundred species of today’s birds and noticed that only a barn owl (called Tyto alba) had a lagena comparable to that of the Shuvuuia deserti. “The hearing acuity of an owl is supernaturally good, and it is a level above what we see in any other birds except for owlets, nightjars and oilbirds. And that’s what we see in Shuvuuia,” Choiniere explained. Since the Tyto alba was a nocturnal hunter, the researchers were curious to find out if the Shuvuuia deserti also hunted at night and if so, how well was its vision in the dark?
By taking a 3D scan of its skull and analyzing the eye structure called scleral ring (the bones that surround the pupil of the eye), they found out that it actually had exceptional vision at night. They measured the ring’s diameter in order to determine how much light could enter – the wider the eye is, the better the night vision would be.
Since the eyes and ears of the majority of dinosaurs and birds were adapted for daytime use, the fact that these nocturnal characteristics were found in the Shuvuuia deserti points to them being independently evolved features. These features would have allowed them to find small mammals and insects at night.
Choiniere stated the significance of analyzing both modern and extinct species to better understand certain characteristics of the species, “Studying the past really requires studying the present, too.” “The biodiversity we see today is an extraordinary window to the lifestyles of animals from long ago.” Their research was published in the journal Science where it can be read in full.
An image of what the Shuvuuia deserti would have looked like and a picture of the bones can be seen here.