Dinosaurs in Their Time

Field Guide to the Oviraptorosaur

Related Research at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

a new oviraptorosaurCarnegie Museum of Natural History is home to one of the world's finest collections of dinosaurs and other fossils.

The museum's association with fossils dates back nearly to its founding in 1895. For more than a century, the museum's curators and field collectors, including such legendary paleontologists as Earl Douglass, Jacob Wortman, and John Bell Hatcher, have mounted expeditions that have unearthed some of the world's most famous dinosaurs, including Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus. Today, paleontological research continues to flourish at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientists are currently studying the bones of the oviraptorosaur so that we may learn more about this amazing creature. Questions our scientists hope to answer with their study include:

* What did caenagnathid dinosaurs look like? Carnegie Museum of Natural History's oviraptorosaur is by far the most complete North American oviraptorosaur, and the most complete member of Caenagnathidae in the world. Its study will reveal the anatomy of these unusual dinosaurs for the first time.

* How did a seven-foot-tall, toothless theropod with wicked claws live? Did it eat meat, plants, or both? Study of the Carnegie oviraptorosaur may help clarify issues such as the diet and behavior of caenagnathids and other oviraptorosaurs.

* Where do oviraptorosaurs fit on the evolutionary tree of life? Study of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History oviraptorosaur has the potential to help settle questions surrounding oviraptorosaur relationships, which may affect our understanding of the origin and early evolution of birds.

From Fossil Fragments to Flesh and Feathers

oviraptorosaur clawThe skeleton is a biography in bone that preserves clues to how a dinosaur lived, its evolutionary history, and where it fits on the family tree of life on earth. Once paleontologists understand the skeleton of a dinosaur, how is the entire animal reconstructed?

Since soft body tissues, such as muscle and skin, are rarely preserved as fossils, scientists usually rely on living animals to predict these aspects of dinosaur anatomy. Dinosaurs are sandwiched between crocodilians and birds on the tree of life, so these two groups are often used to help understand dinosaur soft tissues. If a particular soft tissue structure is present in both crocodilians and birds, there’s a very good chance it was present in dinosaurs, too.

In exceptional cases, soft tissues do fossilize, offering scientists important insight into dinosaur appearance and behavior. Skeletons of the primitive oviraptorosaur Caudipteryx have been preserved with fossilized feather impressions. No feathers were preserved with this new oviraptorosaur. However, because Caudipteryx is closely related to this new discovery, it is reasonable to assume that our new dinosaur was feathered as well.

Why is this dinosaur a cast while the other fossil bones on display in Dinosaurs in Their Time are mostly real? The bones of the other dinosaurs in our exhibitions are much stronger than the bones of the new oviraptorosaur. The new dinosaur's bones are so fragile that they would not hold up to being mounted for display. Recreating the dinosaur as a cast allows Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientists to study the real—and extremely fragile!—fossils in a safe environment, while still allowing us to mount the dinosaur for display in our exhibition.

Contrary to what many people believe, only a few dinosaurs are known from essentially complete skeletons. This oviraptorosaur is no exception—it is known from two specimens, neither of which is totally complete. However, each of these incomplete skeletons includes some bones that are not preserved in the other. These dinosaurs belong to the same species because the bones they have in common are nearly identical. These two specimens were combined to create the single oviraptorosaur skeletal cast on display.

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