A goosey cousin for ve­loci­rap­tor

A Mon­go­lian fos­sil re­veals the first aquatic ‘rap­tor’ and a new di­nosaur sub­fam­ily.

Cosmos - - Digest -

A stun­ning fos­sil – swiped from Mon­go­lia’s Gobi Desert by poach­ers but later ac­quired by sci­en­tists – is rewrit­ing the books on the di­ver­sity of body types in car­niv­o­rous di­nosaurs.

Newly de­scribed species Hal­szkara­p­tor es­cuil­liei is so un­like any­thing seen be­fore that a new di­nosaur sub­fam­ily, the Hal­szkara­p­tori­nae, has been cre­ated.

Ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis pub­lished in Na­ture, the 75-mil­lion-year-old crea­ture was goose-sized with a duck bill, the s-shaped neck of a swan and the feet and claws of a Ve­loci­rap­tor.

The new species be­longs to the group of di­nosaurs known as dro­maeosaurs – col­lo­qui­ally re­ferred to as ‘rap­tors’ – which in­cludes Ve­loci­rap­tor. It is the first known aquatic mem­ber of the group.

The shape of its fore­limbs sug­gests it used them as pad­dles to pro­pel it­self un­der­wa­ter, much like pen­guins do to­day. The au­thors of the pa­per – An­drea Cau, of the Mu­seum of Ge­ol­ogy and Palaeontology in Bologna, and Pas­cal Gode­froit, of the Royal Bel­gian In­sti­tute of Nat­u­ral Sci­ences – be­lieve it would have spent much of its time in wa­ter, snatch­ing fish by dart­ing out its elon­gated neck.

Not only is the an­i­mal unique but so was the method used to study it. Rather than re­move the frag­ile fos­sil from the rock that en­cases it, the team scanned it at the Euro­pean Syn­chrotron Ra­di­a­tion Fa­cil­ity in Greno­ble, France, to cre­ate a high­res­o­lu­tion dig­i­tal re­con­struc­tion.

It’s “prob­a­bly the most de­tailed syn­chrotron anal­y­sis ever done on a fos­sil,” says Cau. The sci­en­tists are yet to wade through six ter­abytes of scan data. “I am quite sure that not all the se­crets of this di­nosaur have yet been re­vealed.”

Thomas Holtz, a car­niv­o­rous di­nosaur ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, says the dis­cov­ery is a re­minder that the wider fam­ily of rap­tors “is not made up only of knife-toed mur­der-birds like Deinony­chus and Ve­loci­rap­tor” but also con­tained “aquatic, toothy pseudo-geese”.

CREDIT: ABOVE – THIERRY HUBIN, ROYAL BEL­GIAN IN­STI­TUTE OF NAT­U­RAL SCI­ENCES; BE­LOW – SAINT THOMAS PRO­DUC­TION

This im­mac­u­lately pre­served fos­sil re­vealed a new class of aquatic rap­tor. It was scanned to gen­er­ate the dig­i­tally re­con­structed goosey crea­ture shown be­low.

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