A goosey cousin for velociraptor
A Mongolian fossil reveals the first aquatic ‘raptor’ and a new dinosaur subfamily.
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”.
This immaculately preserved fossil revealed a new class of aquatic raptor. It was scanned to generate the digitally reconstructed goosey creature shown below.