One man's life-long hunt for extinct dinosaurs

Xinhua
Xing Lida, 39, spends his life looking for traces of dinosaurs that became extinct more than 60 million years ago.
Xinhua

Xing Lida, 39, spends his life looking for traces of dinosaurs that became extinct more than 60 million years ago.

Discovering any trace always excites the youthful paleontologist. He once found fossils with footprints of a dinosaur making a U-turn, the world’s first evidence of such a maneuver. He was the first to identify tracks of a swimming theropod in China. And he made a mind-blowing finding of parallel tracks left by dromaeosaurs in one site, indicating that the dinosaurs, which were previously thought to be solitary, lived in groups.

His latest discovery is a group of 80 million-year-old tracks left by at least eight dinosaurs in southeast China’s Fujian Province. Such a diverse set of tracks will be part of his map of ancient dinosaur habitats.

An associate professor at China University of Geosciences, Xing spends seven months a year living in rough terrain and weather to find tracks and fossils of dinosaurs around the world.

Dinosaurs inhabited the world for some 160 million years. Studying them can help explain evolution of life on Earth, or answer questions of where humans come from and where we might go, he said.

“These are the ultimate questions of paleontology, the historical mission of all humanity and the purpose of my research.”

Xing’s blockbuster discovery is a feathered dinosaur tail in a piece of palm-sized amber.

In 2011, while studying in Canada for a master’s in paleontology, he learned that dinosaur feathers could be preserved in fossil tree resin. He became a frequenter of amber-rich Myanmar, trekking by car, boat and elephant to amber markets.

One day in June 2016, Xing came across a vendor who said there was a special piece of amber with “plants” in it. After taking a close look, Xing believed it contained the remains of an ancient bird or a non-avian dinosaur.

“When I showed the amber sample to my foreign colleagues, they were surprised,” Xing recalled. Xing’s passion started in childhood with a book given by his grandfather. He was thrilled by the dinosaur stories and read them again and again.

His two boys are nicknamed “Little Dinosaur” and “Little Flying Dragon.” “Dinosaurs are extinct, but they have been restored in our hands. I am determined to tell their stories all my life,” Xing said.

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