Mononykus

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mononykus

Mononykus (meaning “one claw”) was a theropod dinosaur from late Cretaceous Mongolia (Nemegt Formation, about 70 million years ago) with long, skinny legs. It moved about on two legs, was likely very nimble and could run at high speeds, something that would have been useful in the open flood plains where it lived. It had a small skull, and its teeth were small and pointed, suggesting that it ate insects and small animals, such as lizards and mammals. Its large eyes might have allowed Mononykus to hunt by night, when it was cooler and there would have been fewer predators about. Mononykus was originally named Mononychus in 1993, but later that year, it was renamed because the original name had already been used for a beetle named by Johann Schueppel, a German entomologist.
 
Size comparison of several parvicursorine dinosaurs. From left to right: Parvicursor remotus (green), Ceratonykus oculatus (red), Shuvuuia deserti (blue), and Mononykus olecranus (violet). Scaled to tibia length in their respective descriptions. Author: Matthew Martyniuk
 
Mononykus was a small dinosaur, only 1 metre (3.3 ft) long. Other characteristics include fused wrist bones similar to those of birds, and a keeled breastbone. It differed from close relatives Shuvuuia and Parvicursor in several details of its skeleton, including a pubic bone that is triangular in cross section, and different proportions in the toe bones.
 
Mononykus was a member of the family Alvarezsauridae and, like its relatives, had very strange, stubby forearms with one large, approximately 7.5-centimetre (3.0 in) long claw (hence its name). The other two claws had disappeared (however, a close relative of MononykusShuvuuia, had two vestigial claws, alongside one large claw). The purpose of these highly specialized arms is still a mystery, but some scientists have suggested they were used to break open termite mounds (like modern anteaters), and therefore it is possible that they fed primarily on insects.

In a 2001 study conducted by Bruce Rothschild and other paleontologists, 15 foot bones referred to Mononykus were examined for signs of stress fracture, but none were found.