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10 Egg-Cellent Facts About Oviraptor

Kabacchi, Flickr

Crested, cryptic, and named after a misunderstanding, Oviraptor’s sure to delight trivia buffs of all ages.   

1. It was (Perhaps Wrongfully) Accused of Egg-Napping.  

Leonora Enking, Flickr

Experts suspected foul play when this parrot-beaked dino was first unearthed in Mongolia in 1924. Lying beside that skeleton were some fossilized eggs thought to have been laid by a local herbivore named Protoceratops—so paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn called the new critter “Oviraptor,” or “egg thief.” But even he wasn’t 100 percent sold on the name. “[It] may entirely mislead us as to its feeding habits,” Osborn allowed, “and belie its character.”

His caution may have been justified. In 1994, 70 years after its discovery, very similar-looking eggs were described—eggs which contained Oviraptor-like embryos. Therefore, Osborn’s original specimen probably wasn’t a nest-raider but instead a mother minding her own brood.

2. Oviraptor Was Likely a Decent Parent.

Meet “Big Mama” (pictured above). This amazing skeleton—which belonged to a close Oviraptor relative dubbed Citipati—rests splayed out over its 75 million-year-old nest. Many have interpreted this dramatic position as the dutiful parent’s last-ditch effort to shield said clutch from an oncoming sandstorm which buried mother and eggs alike.

3. In Lieu of Teeth, Oviraptor had Spikes on the Roof of Its Mouth.

Kabacchi, Flickr

Like dental stalactites, weird, downward-dangling spikes were anchored to Oviraptor palates.  

4. We’re Not Quite Sure What Its Crest Looked Like.

Oviraptor did have a crest—that much is clear—but no complete skulls have been found. All known pieces of this ornament are fragmentary. Scientists once reimagined it as a nub-like protrusion above the nose, but it’s now generally thought to have been larger and somewhat U-shaped. 

5. Most Oviraptor Illustrations are Actually Based on a Different Dino.

The aforementioned Citipati is represented by several complete skeletons, so artists usually draw upon this less-famous dinosaur when sketching Oviraptor, to whom the fossil record hasn’t been as kind.

6. Oviraptor Had an Enormous Cousin.

With a name like Gigantoraptor, you’d expect this thing to really deliver in the size department—and at 26 feet in length, weighing well over a ton, it did just thatOviraptor was only about 5 feet long and probably weighed less than 100 pounds.

7. Oviraptor May Have Done some Tail Shaking.  

“Their tails were not only very, very flexible but quite muscular,” says University of Alberta researcher Scott Persons. His team discerned that Oviraptor and its kin could hold their tails at a sharp, upward angle for quite some time. Why? Perhaps males had some gaudy feathers back there, which they could shake to drive the ladies wild.

8. What Did It Eat? There’s No Shortage of Suggestions.

Jordi Payà, Flickr

Oysters, clams, lizards, veggies, and smaller dinos have all been proposed as dietary options. And given Oviraptor’s powerful jaws and puncturing, tooth-like spines, the scientific community can’t entirely strike eggs from the menu.

9. Don’t Go Confusing this Dino with Jurassic Park's Raptors.

That “—raptor” suffix can be misleading. Velociraptor and its nimble, sickle-clawed brethren are all technically known as dromaeosaurs. Dinosaurs like Oviraptor, Citipati, and Gigantoraptor belonged to a related (but separate) group called the oviraptorosauria.  Hopefully, we’ll see plenty of both gangs in the Jurassic Park series’ upcoming fourth installment.

10. One Oviraptorid Nest did Contain Some Velociraptor-Like Bones.

Leonora Enking, Flickr

How did two embryo-sized Velociraptor heads wind up in an Oviraptorid’s nest? Odds are these hatchlings became breakfast in bed, but paleontologist Mark Norell offers a more creative speculation: brood parasitism. Some modern birds, like the Old World cuckoo, lay their eggs in the nests of other species and, thus, defer parenting responsibilities to whichever unsuspecting avians they’ve targeted. Maybe dromaeosaur moms used this same trick. Clever girls...

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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