Newly Discovered Oviraptor Suffered a Slow, Miserable Death

By George Dvorsky on at

Behold Tongtianlong, a new species of oviraptor uncovered in China. The fossilised remains of this feathered, bird-like dinosaur were preserved with its limbs outstretched, and its head raised—suggesting it was hopelessly stuck in a patch of mud, where it eventually died.

Before we get into the details of this new study, just take a look at that glorious painting produced by Chinese artist Zhao Chuang. Interpretations like this allow scientists to visualise their findings, while also providing us dino junkies with a glimpse of what these fantastic creatures must have looked like.

This new oviraptor, called Tongtianlong limosus, is described in a new Scientific Reports study led by palaeontologist Junchang Lü from Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences. The unique shape of its dome-like skull, and the highly convex cranial bone at the tip of its upper jaw, distinguish it from other oviraptors, signifying the discovery an entirely new species.

Newly Discovered Oviraptor Suffered a Slow, Miserable Death
The well-preserved remains of Tongtianlong featured arms outstretched, with neck and head held high—a very unusual orientation for a fossil. (Image: Junchang Lü et al., 2016/Nature Reports)

A farmer discovered the remains in the Nanxiong Formation of the Ganzhou area of Jiangxi Province in southern China. Unfortunately, he collected the remains and did not map the original location, making it difficult for the researchers to interpret the cause of Tongtianlong’s strange position.

Analysis of the well-preserved fossil show an unusual posture, with the oviraptor’s wing-like limbs splayed to the side, its neck outstretched, and its head raised. The researchers hypothesise that Tongtianlong became hopelessly mired in mud, where it died and was ultimately buried. The researchers describe this as one possible, “but highly speculative,” interpretation of the fossil.

This creature lived in the Ganzhou area during the late Cretaceous period some 72 million years ago, and it’s now the sixth oviraptor species to be discovered in the region. Oviraptors are an unusual group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs, featuring shortened, toothless skulls, and ranging in size from a turkey to nearly the length of an elephant, or 23 feet (7 meters).

Oviraptors are portrayed as stealthy carnivores in films like Jurassic Park, but they probably had varied diets, feasting on eggs, mollusks, plants, shellfish, and nuts. The sheer number of fossils found, along with the apparent diversity of this dinosaur subgroup, suggests they were a very successful adaptation. [Scientific Reports]