A little over a year ago, in March of 2020, it was reported that a tiny hummingbird-sized dinosaur that lived about 99 million years ago had been found preserved in amber in a Myanmar mine. The creature, which was named Oculudentavis khaungraae, weighed just 0.07 ounces, meaning that it was the smallest known dinosaur to have lived during the Mesozoic Era (from 252 million to 66 million years ago).
Recently, however, very surprising news has surfaced as further analysis of the specimen has revealed that it was not a dinosaur but instead an ancient type of lizard. Ever since its discovery, scientists have been baffled over this tiny creature with a round bird-like skull, skinny tapering snout, and an exceptionally large amount of teeth (more than a hundred sharp teeth). What was even more baffling was that its eye sockets were similar to those of a lizard.
While the initial analysis concluded that it was an incredibly tiny dinosaur, some scientists weren’t convinced of the results as they claimed that it looked more similar to a bizarre lizard than a miniature dinosaur. (A picture of the Oculudentavis khaungraae trapped in amber can be seen here.)
A recent discovery has blown this mystery wide open as scientists actually found a second creature that was preserved in amber that looked very similar to the Oculudentavis khaungraae. In fact, they were so similar that experts believed they came from the same genus. This second fossil, which has been named Oculudentavis naga, had portions of its lower body preserved in the amber, allowing researchers to identify it as a lizard.
After the second specimen was found and identified as a lizard, the experts conducted further analysis on both fossils by using CT scans and they found even more lizard-like features such as scales and a specific skull bone that has only been found in squamates (scaled reptiles). Furthermore, their teeth were connected to their jawbone instead of in the sockets as the way dinosaurs’ teeth were attached.
Despite being a type of ancient lizard, the specimens were incredibly unique compared to others, specifically their snouts and skulls. This would indicate that they were from a completely unknown and new species of lizard. (The study was published in Current Biology where it can be read in full.)
A picture of the Oculudentavis naga trapped in amber; an image of what it would have looked like; and a comparison between both skulls can be seen here.