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10 Egg-Cellent Facts About Oviraptor

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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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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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iStock

In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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Fossilized Poop Shows Some Herbivorous Dinosaurs Loved a Good Crab Dinner
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Lead author Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder
Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder

Scientists can learn a lot about the prehistoric world through very, very old poop. Just recently, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Kent State University studying fossilized dinosaur poop discovered that some herbivores weren't as picky about their diets as we thought. Though they mostly ate plants, large dinosaurs living in Utah 75 million years ago also seem to have eaten prehistoric crustaceans, as Nature News reports.

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, finds that large dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period seem to have eaten crabs, along with rotting wood, based on the content of their coprolites (the more scientific term for prehistoric No. 2). The fossilized remains of dinos' bathroom activities were found in the Kaiparowits rock formation in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a known hotspot for pristine Late Cretaceous fossils.

"The large size and woody contents" of the poop suggest that they were created by dinosaurs that were well-equipped to process fiber in their diets, as the study puts it, leading the researchers to suggest that the poop came from big herbivores like hadrosaurs, whose remains have been found in the area before.

Close up scientific images of evidence of crustaceans in fossilized poop.
Chin et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

While scientists previously thought that plant-eating dinosaurs like hadrosaurs only ate vegetation, these findings suggest otherwise. "The diet represented by the Kaiparowits coprolites would have provided a woody stew of plant, fungal, and invertebrate tissues," the researchers write, including crabs (Yum). These crustaceans would have provided a big source of calcium for the dinosaurs, and the other invertebrates that no doubt lived in the rotting logs would have provided a good source of protein.

But they probably didn't eat the rotting wood all year, instead munching on dead trees seasonally or during times when other food sources weren’t available. Another hypothesis is that these "ancient fecal producers," as the researchers call them, might have eaten the rotting wood, with its calcium-rich crustaceans and protein-laden invertebrates, during egg production, similar to the feeding patterns of modern birds during breeding season.

Regardless of the reason, these findings could change how we think about what big dinosaurs ate.

[h/t Nature News]

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