The need for speed

15 FebExhibitions / Learning and Discovery

fb-34-ORNITHIt would have left a Tyrannosaurus in the dust, and even pipped Usain Bolt at the post. One of the dinosaur world’s great speedsters, the More FM Ornithomimus got its pace from its long legs and slim build – so not only could it outrun a larger predator, it wouldn’t provide much of a meal even if it was caught. Why would a hungry carnivore bother with all that effort when there might be a delicious, lumbering sauropod just around the corner?

Ornithomimus – “bird mimic” – is often likened to an ostrich, which is accurate but runs the species into some choppy taxonomic waters. There is a category of dinosaur called the Ornithomimids  – of which our speedster is a member. Also part of this group is its cousin Struthiomimus, which is “ostrich mimic”…and yet it’s the dino with the more broadly descriptive name that gets the comparison. Not confusing at all!

If Triceratops and its 800 renewable teeth would have saved on dentist’s bills, Ornithomimus would never even have had to make an appointment. Like a bird, again, it had no teeth. Considered alongside its long arms and small dextrous claws and we can infer that it probably lived on soft, easily snatchable things like plants, insects, eggs and maybe even small lizards or mammals.

It’s tricky for soft things like feathers to survive the fossilisation process, but we know that Ornithomimus had feathers on its arms. Useless for actual flight, they’d have been purely ornamental. It’s quite likely that the rest of its body was feathered too, but at the moment we just don’t know for sure.

There’s one extra way in which Ornithomimus resembles the creatures of today: analysis of the bones around its eyes suggests that it was active only for short periods during both day and night – behaviour that will be familiar to parents of teenagers.

Meet Ornithomimus at Dinosaur Encounter, proudly supported by City Partner Fly Palmy, on at Te Manawa until 26 February.

WwOl62BhRob Mildon finds that soft, easily snatchable things help him write