This New Dinosaur Is So Strange Scientists Thought It Was Fake

Monday, 11 December 2017 - 11:41AM
Weird Science
Monday, 11 December 2017 - 11:41AM
This New Dinosaur Is So Strange Scientists Thought It Was Fake
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Image credit: Lukas Panzarin
With the new Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hitting theaters next summer, it's about time to add a new dinosaur to the roster.

The Mosasaurus showed how cool aquatic dinosaurs can be, but our heroes are primarily going to be on land...we'd need some kind of amphibious dinosaur...with razor-sharp teeth...that looks sort of like a velociraptor, but new. Like a murderous swan.

That can't exist, can it?

Yes, actually. Well, maybe. The skeleton of just such a creature, currently termed Halszkaraptor escuilliei, was recently examined by scientists at The University of Bologna, which initially suspected the fossil of being a fake.

This makes sense, considering that it was apparently being sold on the black market, rather than coming from a supervised dig. With an origin story like that, the skeleton seems even less plausible.

However, using synchrotron multi-resolution X-ray microtomography (which is probably the most jargon-heavy scientific term we've heard since "sequence-specific oligonucleotide"), scientists were able to determine that the skeleton was not a "chimera," or two skeletons artificially mixed together after the fact.

At least, they're pretty sure—paleontologist Steve Brusatte still isn't completely sold.

Here's what the skeleton looks like: 

What makes Halszkaraptor escuilliei so strange, apart from its appearance, is that its features suggest that it could both walk around on land and hunt in the ocean.

It's a theropod, meaning it's still a carnivorous reptile, but it appears to have both long, skinny legs with talons and tiny, wing-like flippers that help it swim. 

As ScienceMag mentions, not many creatures that moved onto land from water ever went back—the ancestors of sea turtles and whales pulled it off, and apparently so did Halszkaraptor escuilliei:

Opening quote
Halszkaraptor escuilliei, like Spinosaurus, had long bones at the tip of its snout, which was thick with a network of nerves and blood vessels—a feature present in aquatic reptiles from ancient plesiosaurs to modern-day crocodiles.
Closing quote

Only one thing makes this swan-like murder machine a bit less scary: it's about the size of a modern goose. Then again, geese are still used as guard animals in some parts of the world. And we've never totally trusted them to begin with.
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