New Dinosaur Species Was Like a ‘Swimming Velociraptor’ That Hunted Underwater
Duck-size predator unearthed in Mongolian desert is believed to be the first prehistoric carnivore of its kind
A new dinosaur species discovered in Mongolia is being called the first prehistoric meat-eater ever found with two legs and a streamlined body adapted for diving and hunting underwater.
The duck-size predator, described in a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Communications Biology, belongs to the same group of feathered dinosaurs that includes the Velociraptors made famous by the “Jurassic Park” movies.
“I think like a swimming Velociraptor is a pretty good characterization,” said study co-author Philip Currie, a professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Alberta. “But in terms of what it’s doing, it’s certainly more like a penguin or shorebird in that it’s fishing.”
The animal was dubbed Natovenator polydontus, meaning “swimming hunter with many teeth.”
The discovery adds to a body of evidence indicating that dinosaurs were better adapted to living in a wider range of ecosystems than paleontologists once thought. “They lived in deserts, they lived in forests, they lived in very wet areas,” Dr. Currie said. “And now we’re finding these things that spent most of their time in the water.”
The fossilized bones of the tiny predator, including a well-preserved skull and partial skeleton, were discovered in a rock formation in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia in 2008. The formation dates back about 70 million years, or roughly five million years before the asteroid impact that is believed to have ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
“A whole skeleton came to light” after a femur, forelimbs, vertebrae and other bones were removed from the rock, said Yuong-Nam Lee, professor of vertebrate paleontology at Seoul National University in South Korea and another co-author of the study. “The specimen was so delicate but beautifully preserved.”
The international team of researchers behind the discovery thought initially that the animal might have been a lizard or a mammal, according to Dr. Currie. But CT scans conducted at Seoul National University helped show it to be a dinosaur with a streamlined body, a goose-like neck and a jaw tightly packed with teeth.
Those and other anatomical features, commonly seen in some reptiles like crocodiles and diving birds like penguins and loons, suggest that Natovenator was a strong swimmer that could also walk on land, according to Dr. Lee. The dinosaur’s small, sharp teeth suggest that it ate fish, the researchers said.
But some scientists questioned the conclusion that the dinosaur was adapted for swimming and diving.
Takuya Konishi, a University of Cincinnati paleontologist who wasn’t involved with the study, said he believed the animal’s small front legs would have been too weak to overcome the drag from its long back legs when diving. It seems more likely, he said, that the dinosaur floated on the water’s surface and used its long neck to dip its head underwater to snag its prey.
More bones from other Natovenator specimens could help confirm the dinosaur’s behavior, Dr. Konishi said. “An incomplete fossil record is always our enemy,” he added.
Andrea Cau, an Italian paleontologist who wasn’t involved in the research, said he agreed with the authors’ interpretation of the fossil evidence and called it well-argued and convincing.
“Discoveries like this confirm the growing idea that dinosaurs were more diverse in body adaptations and lifestyles than the ‘terrible lizards’ depicted in the popular media,” Dr. Cau added.