An exceptionally well-preserved dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia unites an unexpected combination of features that defines a new group of semi-aquatic predators related to Velociraptor. Detailed 3D synchrotron analysis allowed an international team of researchers to present the bizarre 75 million-year-old predator, named Halszkaraptor escuilliei.
In fact, the remains, which were on the black market for years, painted such a wacky image of a dinosaur that paleontologists thought it was a sophisticated fake at first. [See images of the swan-necked, amphibious dinosaur]
Its discovery reveals that the bird-like dinosaur was likely semiaquatic and felt right at home in the water, the researchers said. This is surprising because the newfound species is a theropod — a group of bipedal, mostly meat-eating dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex — and it’s thought that most theropods didn’t spend much time in the water, the researchers said. (The major exception being Spinosaurus. Also, T. rex could likely swim, fossilized underwater footprints show.)
LiveScience (companion photos)
About 75 million years ago, an odd dinosaur walked from land into the water, where it used its flipper-like arms to swim in the ocean. This amazing feat was rare, as most dinosaurs of its kind could not swim that well, with the exception of Spinosaurus. A fossilized specimen of this enigmatic species was uncovered and sold on the black market for years before researchers could study it. However, not everyone is convinced it’s a genuine specimen, and say that it might be a fake. But the researches of a new study say it’s real, and even put it in the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility to guarantee its validity.
“Illicit fossil trade presents a great challenge to modern palaeontology and accounts for a dramatic loss of Mongolian scientific heritage,” Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels said in a statement. If and when these stolen specimens finally get some academic attention, they’re often difficult to classify because of uncertainty about their location of origin, and a lack of care taken to preserve important structures during excavation and transport.
Paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, who didn’t participate in the study, called it “a pretty crazy chimera: a swan neck and dinosaur body, but with a mouthful of tiny teeth and hands and feet that look like they might be good for swimming.”
Its mashup body let it run and hunt on the ground and fish in fresh water, said study co-author Paul Tafforeau. He’s a paleontologist at the ESRF, known as the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France, a powerful X-ray generator where numerous tests were made on the fossil.
The New York Times
“We’re used to thinking of raptors in the form of velociraptors, looking like knife-footed murder birds,” [Thomas Richard Holtz, a paleontologist from the University of Maryland, who was not involved the original study] said. “Now we know it also produced the non-bird dinosaur equivalent to a goose.”
He said that the dinosaur’s characteristics support the idea that it swam, and suggest that it most likely waded in the water until it got too deep and then it used its forelimbs to push itself forward. But he added that further investigation was needed to reveal this strange dinoduck’s swim stroke of choice.