Researchers working in Late Cretaceous sediments of southern China have unearthed a new species of oviraptorosaur with a pronounced crest on its head. The findings, published in Nature this week, suggest that these rare oviraptorosaurs were actually quite widespread across Asia.
Oviraptorosaurs were a group of feathered dinosaurs with distinctive short, beaked skulls and no teeth – good for crushing hard food. This group mostly lived in Cretaceous Asia and North America, and they ranged from the size of turkeys to eight meters in length. Since the first discovery of Oviraptor in 1924, more than 30 other genera have been reported. These misunderstood dinosaurs were named “egg thief lizards” because some fossils were found with eggs. However, later work revealed that they weren’t stealing and eating them, they were nesting their own.
A team led by Junchang Lü from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences examined the skull (complete with lower jaw) and a partial skeleton unearthed at a construction site for the Ganzhou Railway Station in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province. (In this image of the skull, the neck is on the right and continues to extend downwards, and the beak is facing the left.) The specimen is different enough from other reported oviraptorosaurs that were also discovered in the Upper Cretaceous Nanxiong Formation, warranting a new species.
They named it Huanansaurus ganzhouensis after “Huanan” for south China, and Ganzhou, where the dinosaur was discovered. Like some other oviraptorosaurs, Huanansaurus had a bony crest on the top of its head. However, the new dinosaur has a different jaw structure than other members of Oviraptoridae, which may indicate slightly different foraging strategies.
Based on their phylogenetic analysis, the researchers say that the new species is closely related to Citipati osmolskae. This oviraptorid was discovered in the Omnogovi Province of southern Mongolia about 3,000 kilometers away. Because of their similarities and this vast distance, the team thinks similar habitats must have existed across the Asian continent at the end of the Mesozoic Era some 65 million years ago, allowing oviraptorids to flourish throughout terrestrial ecosystems.
Close-up of the phalanges of the right and left hand. Junchang Lü
Images: Chuang Zhao (top), Junchang Lü (middle, bottom)