Old Earth Ministries Online Dinosaur Curriculum
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Lesson 32 - Oviraptorosaurs
Oviraptorosaurs ("egg thief lizards") are a group of feathered maniraptoran dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period of what are now Asia and North America. They are distinct for their characteristically short, beaked, parrot - like skulls, with or without bony crests atop the head. The group includes the Oviraptoridae, the Caenagnathidae and several species which do not belong to either of these families, including Avimimus and Caudipteryx, and Incisivosaurus.
They ranged in size from Caudipteryx, which was the size of a turkey, to the 8 meter long, 1.4 ton Gigantoraptor. The group (along with all maniraptoran dinosaurs) is close to the ancestry of birds. Analyses like those of Osmolska et al. (2004) suggest that they may in fact represent primitive flightless birds. The most complete oviraptorosaur specimens have been found in Asia. The North American oviraptorosaur record is "unfortunately" sparse.
Oviraptorosaurians are different from most other maniraptorans in the form of their skulls. They have shortened snouts, beak-like jaws with few or no teeth, and a large opening in the lower jaw bone. Some have bony crests atop the skull. The most primitive members have a few teeth in the front of the mouth; in Incisivosaurus, they are enlarged and form bizarrely prominent "bucktoothed" incisors. The arms and hands are generally long (though very reduced in some advanced species) and the shoulder girdle is large and massive, with flexed coracoid bones and prominent attachments for strong arm muscles.
Their tails are very short compared to other maniraptorans. In Nomingia and Similicaudipteryx, the tail ends in four fused vertebrae which Osmólska, He, and others have referred to as a "pygostyle", but which Witmer found was anatomically different and evolved separately from the pygostyle of birds (a bone which serves as the attachment point for a fan of tail feathers).
Evidence for feathered oviraptorosaurs exists in several forms. Most directly, four species of primitive oviraptorosaurs (in the genera Caudipteryx, Protarchaeopteryx, and Similicaudipteryx) have been found with impressions of well developed feathers, most notably on the wings and tail, suggesting that they functioned at least partially for display. Secondly, at least two oviraptorosaur specimens (Nomingia and Similicaudipteryx) preserved tails ending in something like a pygostyle, a bony structure at the end of the tail that, in modern birds, is used to support a fan of feathers. Similarly, quill knobs (anchor points for wing feathers on the ulna) have been reported in the oviraptorosaurian species Avimimus portentosus. Additionally, a number of oviraptorid specimens have famously been discovered in a nesting position similar to that of modern birds. The arms of these specimens are positioned in such a way that they could perfectly cover their eggs if they had small wings and a substantial covering of feathers.
The eating habits of these animals are not fully known: they have been suggested to have been either carnivorous, herbivorous, mollusk-eating or egg-eating (the latter is no longer considered valid); these options are not necessarily incompatible.
Some ate small vertebrates. Evidence for this comes from a lizard skeleton preserved in the body cavity of Oviraptor and two baby Troodontid skulls found in a Citipati nest. Evidence in favor of a herbivorous diet includes the presence of gastroliths preserved with Caudipteryx. There are also arguments for the inclusion of mollusks in their diet.
Originally these animals were thought to be egg raiders, based on a Mongolian find showing Oviraptor on top of a nest. Recent studies have shown that in fact the animal was on top of its own nest.
Several oviraptorosaurian nests are known, with several oviraptorid specimens preserved in a brooding position over large clutches of up to a dozen or more eggs. The eggs are usually arranged in pairs, and forming a circular pattern within the nest. One oviraptorosaurian specimen from China has been found with two unlaid eggs within the pelvic canal. This suggests that, unlike modern crocodilians, oviraptorosaurs did not produce and lay many eggs at the same time. Rather, the eggs were produced within the reproductive organs in pairs, and laid two at a time, with the mother positioned in the center of the nest and rotating in a circle as each pair was laid. This behavior is supported by the fact that the eggs were shaped like highly elongated ovals, with the more pointed end pointing backward from the birth canal, and also oriented toward the center of the nest.
The presence of two shelled eggs within the birth canal shows that oviraptorosaurs were intermediate between the reproductive biology of crocodilians and modern birds. Like crocodilians, they had two oviducts. However, crocodilians produce multiple shelled eggs per oviduct at a time, whereas oviraptorosaurs, like birds, produced only one egg per oviduct at a time.
Relationship to birds
Oviraptorosaurs, like dromaeosaurs, are so bird-like that several scientists consider them to be true birds, more advanced than Archaeopteryx. Gregory S. Paul has written extensively on this possibility, and Teresa Maryańska and colleagues published a technical paper detailing this idea in 2002. Michael Benton, in his widely-respected text Vertebrate Paleontology, also included oviraptorosaurs as an order within the class Aves. However, a number of researchers have disagreed with this classification, retaining oviraptorosaurs as non-avialan maniraptorans slightly more primitive than the dromaeosaurs.
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Bay State Replicas - Chirostenotes Claw, Chirostenotes Foot, Oviraptor skull, Oviraptor egg, Oviraptor nests, Oviraptor embryo sculpture