Profile of Oviraptor philoceratops.
| Oviraptor philoceratops|
Oviraptor was a small Mongolian theropod dinosaur, first discovered by legendary paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews and first described by Henry Fairfield Osborn, in 1924. Its name is Latin for 'egg thief', referring to the fact that the first fossil specimen was discovered atop a pile of what were thought to be Protoceratops eggs. The specific name philoceratops means "lover of ceratopsians", also given as a result of this find. However, it is now believed that the eggs belonged to this genus itself and that the specimen was actually brooding its eggs, based on discoveries of a related animal called Citipati. Oviraptor forms the basis of a family called Oviraptoridae, named by Barsbold in 1976. Barsbold then used the name to coin a group called Oviraptorosauria.
Oviraptor may have eaten eggs. However, in 1977, Barsbold argued that the strength of its beak would indicate that it was strong enough to break the shells of mollusks such as clams, which are found in the same formation as Oviraptor. The idea of a crushing jaw was first proposed by H. F. Osborn, who believed that the toothless beak in the original skull, together with an extension of several bones below the jaw from the palate, would have made an "egg-piercing" tool, though this interpretation has been disputed. These bones form part of the main upper jaw bone or maxilla, which converge in the middle to form a pair of prongs. The rest of the bony palate, unlike all other dinosaurs, is extended below the jaw line and would have pushed into the space between the toothless lower jaws. A rhamphotheca, or the keratin forming the beaks of birds, covered the edges of upper and lower beaks and probably the palate, as proposed by Barsbold and Osborn.
Oviraptor lived in the late Cretaceous Period, during the Santonian stage, and may have lived in an earlier stage called the Campanian, between 80 to 70 million years ago; it comes almost exclusively from the Djadokhta Formation of Mongolia, as well as the northeast region of the Neimongol Autonomous Region of China, in an area called Bayan Mandahu. Relatives of Oviraptor include "Ingenia" and Chirostenotes.
Oviraptor was one of the most bird-like of the non-avian dinosaurs. Its rib cage, in particular, displayed several features that are typical of birds, including a set of processes on each rib that would have kept the rib cage rigid. A relative of Oviraptor called Nomingia was found with a pygostyle, which is a set of fused vertebrae that would later help support the tail feathers of birds. Skin impressions from more primitive oviraptorosaurs, like Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, clearly show an extensive covering of feathers on the body, feathered wings and feathered tail fans. A feather tail fan is also indicated by the presence of a pygostyle in Nomingia, suggesting that this feature was widespread among oviraptorosaurs. Additionally, the nesting position of the brooding Citipati specimens implies the use of feathered wings to cover the eggs. Given the close anatomical similarity between these species and Oviraptor, it is almost certain that Oviraptor had feathers as well.
Oviraptor is traditionally depicted with a distinctive crest, similar to that of the cassowary. However, re-examination of several oviraptorids (Clark, Norell & Barsbold, 2001) show that this well-known dinosaur may actually be a species of Citipati, a relative of Oviraptor. It is likely that Oviraptor did have a crest, but its exact size and shape are unknown due to crushing in the skull specimens.
In popular culture
- Note: Almost every appearance of "Oviraptor" in popular culture and fiction have actually been based on the tall-crested oviraptorid Citipati, not on Oviraptor.
James Gurney, in his book Dinotopia, conceived of an animal based on Oviraptor. Because he no longer considered it a predator of eggs, he renamed the animal "Ovinutrix", which means "egg nurse". Like many Oviraptor illustrations of the time, it was based on a specimen now referred to Citipati.
Oviraptor appeared in the game Dino Stalker. In the game it burrowed through sand to surprise its enemies and spat poison, behaviors invented purely for the game.
In Disney's Dinosaur, an "Oviraptor" (again, actually Citipati) was shown stealing an Iguanodon egg which would later become the film's protagonist, Aladar. It also appeared in the video game based on the movie.