Dinosaurs – those huge animals that roamed the Earth for millions of years and became extinct 65 million years ago by the asteroid that hit the planet – continue to impress us with the evidence of their existence and the great diversity of species that lived which allow us to take a glimpse to the past of evolution to better understand the present.
Theropod dinosaurs are the group from which modern birds emerged. Almost all the characteristics of the birds that we know in the world today are in some way attributable or related to the Theropod. But one aptitude of some birds still eluded studies.
Only a few species of birds today have the ability to hunt moving prey at night. The sensory faculties of most birds do not allow them to effectively chase or stalk prey without natural light. But the ones that can do it, how do they do it?
In birds, the organ that processes sound information is called lagena, and owls, for example, have the largest in the world, proportionally to their size. This allows them to move easily in the dark and detect potential prey for later hunting.
In addition to evaluating this organ, scientists in a recent study also evaluated the pupil circumference of these night-hunting birds. The larger the pupil expansion size possible, the more light could be processed and therefore the better night vision the individual could have.
With the results of the studies, the experts then compared them with those of several Theropods and finally found a species called Shuvuuia and the similarities were spectacular. Shuvuuia also had a very large lagena, almost identical in size to modern owls, which indicates that this dinosaur would also have the ability to hunt in complete darkness.
“As I was digitally reconstructing the Shuvuuia skull, I couldn’t believe the lagena size… I called Prof. Choiniere to have a look. We both thought it might be a mistake, so I processed the other ear – only then did we realize what a cool discovery we had on our hands!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I got there – dinosaur ears weren’t supposed to look like that!” said Professor Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand.
Shuvuuia, a duck-sized dinosaur, also had large eyes, meaning its night vision was also more advanced than that of its contemporaries.
This little dinosaur is the ancestor of all the birds we know and admire today, has unexpectedly earned a very important place in the history of evolution.