Meet Halszkaraptor, the Strangest New Dinosaur You’ve Ever Seen

Sunday, December 10, 2017

This illustration of the Halszkaraptor escuilliei dinosaur. The creature, about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall. (Source Image: Lukas Panzarin and Andrea Cau via AP)

It looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, and it swims like a duck—but it’s a predatory dinosaur unlike any scientists have seen before.

A study published this week in the journal Nature has introduced the world to the Halszkaraptor escuilliei, the first amphibious dinosaur ever discovered. It’s believed to have lived some 75 million years ago in the Ukhaa Tolgod area of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, known as a treasure trove of Cretaceous-era dinosaur bones. The unusual creature came to light in recent years after its fossil was purchased by a private French collector named François Escuillié, who contacted paleontologist Pascal Godefroit in 2015 for an expert opinion.

This illustration provided by Lukas Panzarin, with Andrea Cau for scientific supervision, shows a Halszkaraptor escuilliei dinosaur. The creature, about 18 inches 45 centimeters) tall, had a bill like a duck but teeth like a croc’s, a swan-like neck and killer claws.

The creature was clearly a small predator, much like Velociraptor. Its feet even had the distinctive sickle-shaped claws that clinked across the kitchen floor in Jurassic Park. But its long neck and tapering snout resembled those of a swan. Its arms and hands also had unusual proportions—something halfway between the grasping limbs of other raptors and the flattened flippers of modern penguins. It looked like a Velociraptor that had adapted for life in the water—that is, if it was even an actual dinosaur.

Lead author Andrea Cau, a paleontologist at the Geological Museum Capellini in Bologna, Italy, said he was at first highly suspicious about the fossil’s authenticity, both because of its appearance and the fact that the rock containing the skeleton had been smuggled out of Mongolia and left in a private collector’s hands.

“I asked myself, ‘Is this a real, natural skeleton, or an artifact, a chimera? If this is a fake, how could I demonstrate it?'” Cau said in an email. “Assuming it was a fake instead of starting assuming that the fossil is genuine was the most appropriate way to start the investigation of such a bizarre fossil.”

So researchers used the Synchrotron to create three-dimensional images of the fossil, which showed the creature was indeed a single animal and not a concoction built up from several sources. For example, an arm hidden in the rock perfectly matched the visible left arm, and lines indicating growth matched up across the bones.

Even though the creature wasn’t dreamed up by Dr. Seuss, it got a blessing from a Dr. Sues.

Hans Sues, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution who wasn’t part of the research, praised the work and said it “shows again how amazingly diverse dinosaurs were.”

Source: / /