This New Dinosaur Looks Less Like a Raptor and More like a Duck

Paleontologists examine new species of "bird" dinosaur that actually was closely related to the infamous Velociraptor.

This New Dinosaur Looks Less Like a Raptor and More like a Duck
The fossil of the new dinosaur was originally thought to be an example of a troodontid Wikipedia Creative Commons

When the public thinks of dinosaurs, first thoughts normally include the sleek predators from Jurassic Park or the powerful Tyrannosaurus Rex. Rarely do people consider that dinosaurs could look more like modern-day animals. However, recent discoveries and renderings of a new form of dinosaur looks eerily like the fluffy ducks one would find in ponds around the world.

This New Dinosaur Looks Less Like a Raptor and More like a Duck
Reconstruction of Halszkaraptor escuilliei, with plumage and swimming posture based on aquatic birds that use wing-propelled swimming. Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Introducing Halszkaraptor Escuilliei

While the newest dinosaur discovery, Halszkaraptor Escuilliei, doesn’t have the iconic duck wings, it probably spent a lot of time in the water. This sleek little dinosaur was designed to fish, with a long neck and heavy hindquarter that helped to keep it balanced as it dipped its head under the Cretaceous waters in search of its prey. 

This unique little dinosaur was discovered in Mongolia which might not seem like a great place for duck-like dinosaurs but during the Cretaceous period, when the Halszkaraptor roamed the earth, Mongolia looked vastly different.  In fact, it resembled the area around the Nile River today, with vast waterways and rich warm climates that were perfect for our little aquatic friend.

Thwarting Poachers

Scientists don’t know exactly where this strange little raptor was dug up — because they weren’t the ones who did the digging.  It’s estimated, based on the composition of the stone that encases the fossil, that the raptor was dug up somewhere in the Djadokhta Formation in Mongolia. However, it was unearthed by poachers sometime in the last year.

Dinosaur poaching, or more specifically fossil poaching, is a growing problem.  There is an enormous black market for dinosaur bones and intact fossils, which leads to finds like this going missing or even being destroyed before they can be introduced to the world.

Legitimate fossil dealers are fighting back by acquiring finds that are making their way onto the black market and conveying them to paleontologists around the globe. It’s still risky though — one infamous case involved the skeleton of a so called Archaeoraptor that was purchased by National Geographic magazine.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a hoax — the skeleton was a mishmash of parts from a microraptor and a dinosaur bird known as Yanornis Martini.

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It wasn’t a total loss though — both the microraptor and the yanornis were previously unknown species in their own right, so Nat Geo got two for the price of one!

Bring in the X-Ray Machine

The problem with the Halszkaraptor isn’t how it was acquired — it’s in how it was excavated.  The skeleton and the stone around it were removed from the ground in one solid piece, making it difficult or dangerous to try to remove the stone from around the bones without damaging the fragile fossil.  So how did paleontologists get a good look at this little raptor?

They used a high-tech x-ray machine called a synchrotron which allows the researchers to bombard the skeleton with high energy particles. This helps them to differentiate between the bones and the stone that surrounds them, and allows them to see small details of the bones without damaging the bones.

This is probably one of the strangest little dinosaurs that has ever been discovered.  It’s a therapod, which means its part of the same family as the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Velociraptor, but it lived a much different life.

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There is still so much that we don’t know about the creatures that inhabited this planet before us, but discoveries like this help us understand the kind of life that existed long before humans took their first steps on this planet — and the environmental changes that killed off the giant reptiles and paved the way for us to take their place.

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Megan Ray Nichols is a blogger and freelance science writer. She enjoys participating in conversations about engineering, technology and space exploration. Megan is also a regular contributor to Datafloq, Cerasis, and American Machinist. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing. Subscribe to Schooled By Science today to keep up with scientific discoveries or follow Megan on Twitter.