A group of researchers has discovered a new dinosaur, similar in size and appearance to a goose, that had the ability to dive to catch its prey underwater, as detailed in a recent study published in the journal Communications Biology.
The well-preserved remains of this rare prehistoric animal, called by paleontologists as Natovenator polydontusthey were unearthed in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, in a place that was a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils for decades.
N. polydontus, which means “swimming thief”, is a theropod dinosaur about 45 cm long and with a skull about 7 cm long, that lived about 72 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. Researchers say it had a streamlined, feathered body, an elongated goose-like snout, and 100 tiny teeth.
It had the ability to dive
Even if it was a cousin of the fast little predator velociraptorsthe N. polydontus it has been adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle in a freshwater ecosystem, perhaps floating in rivers and lakes, paddling on limbs or diving to capture prey, the researchers said.
“It was an animal very well prepared to live in an environment that is not typical for an animal related to Velociraptor and its other relatives. Most people think of dinosaurs as specialized land animals, not competing with crocodiles in water.” said paleontologist and study co-author Philip Currie.
Theropods, dinosaurs with great diversity
The N. polydontus It is part of a group of dinosaurs called theropods. The best known are the large carnivores, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the tarbosaurus and the Giganotosaurus. But these species, which shared bipedalism and being feathered, have evolved in unusual directions with examples such as the Therizinosaurus or the struthiomimus.
“The diversity of theropod dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous is absolutely astounding,” Currie added.
“I think there will be more fascinating and strange theropod discoveries in the future,” said lead author Yuong-Nam Lee of Seoul National University in South Korea.
Little information on semi-aquatic dinosaurs
Unlike Cretaceous diving birds, not much is known about these types of dinosaurs with semi-aquatic capabilities. A close relative of N. polydontus called Halszkaraptor, lived a similar lifestyle at about the same time and in the same region. Both were very bird-like in appearance and closely related to the bird lineage.
“Thereforeavenator it is an extraordinary animal for several reasons. First of all, it’s small and delicate. When we found it, we weren’t sure what kind it was because it looked more like a lizard or mammal skeleton than a dinosaur. Once we studied it, we realized it was a theropod dinosaur,” Currie said.
“More than 30 different lineages of tetrapods (land vertebrates) have independently invaded aquatic ecosystems. Why not dinosaurs?” Lee concluded.