10 Egg-Cellent Facts About Oviraptor
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.
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.
Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia Commons
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 that. Oviraptor 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...