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The two scientists said the specimen was preserved in a stereotypical sleeping or resting posture strikingly similar to that of modern birds, showing that this position might have evolved before they did.
It is the first such fossil to be found in a sleeping pose.
It was named it Mei Long, "soundly sleeping dragon".
Mei Long seems to have died with its hind limbs folded underneath it and its head tucked under one forelimb, just as birds roost, with their head under their wing.
The fact that Mei Long seems to have a sleeping habit similar to that of modern birds could mean that the two share a common ancestor not much older than the dinosaur itself, the authors said.
The discovery strengthens the ties between dinosaurs and modern birds. “This specific heat-conserving pose that Mei long was found in provides support for the hypothesis that at least some nonavian dinosaurs, including this animal and its troodontid relatives, were warm-blooded as are today's birds,” Norell explains.