The thief who came in from the cold

23 FebEvents / Exhibitions

fb-35-oviraptorsWith just a few days left in Dinosaur Encounter, our blog series finally arrives at Oviraptor, perhaps the most hard-done-by of our dinos. It has a face only a mother could love, getting a raw deal from evolution – and from us.

Oviraptor’s like the main character in a movie where they’ve been falsely accused and must clear their name, except their name’s kind of been cleared already and no-one want to know, especially not the taxonomists who bestowed its name.

It means “egg thief”, and was given because the first fossil found was atop a bed of eggs. “Thief!” was the cry, and the name stuck, even though later discoveries would suggest that the eggs were its own.

So Maiasaura gets discovered involved with some eggs and immediately gets called “good mother lizard” – her skeleton is on display in our atrium – but the same thing happens to Oviraptor and she’s a thief? You can see why she might be a bit aggrieved at this bit of prehistoric racial profiling.

To add insult to other insult, additional fossil evidence indicates Oviraptor was remarkably family-oriented, incubating its eggs in the manner of a bird, and even raising its young until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Who’s the real “good mother lizard” now?

The implication when a dinosaur steals an egg is that it will eat it, but Oviraptor probably didn’t even eat eggs! Its unusually shaped jaw was far better suited to crushing molluscs and crustaceans scooped from shallow waters. And just like Baryonyx, we know from a few telltale skeletons that it ate the odd small creature too.

While Oviraptor’s face isn’t winning any beauty contests, its body was another matter. It was most likely covered in brightly coloured feathers that would have been used to attract a mates, and it had a crest much like today’s cassowaries. The crest’s exact shape isn’t known, because Oviraptor fossils have always had them too smashed up.

Come and tell Oviraptor you believe in it at Dinosaur Encounter, open at Te Manawa until 26 February.

WwOl62BhRob Mildon writes for Te Manawa, but his exact shape isn’t known