Name means: Egg Seizer
Range: Early Cretaceous (Campanian , 84-70 MYA) from Mongolia, possibly China, Kazakhstan
Size estimate: 5-6 ft length, 70-80 lbs
Discovery: Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1924
Classification: dinosauria, saurischia, therapoda, maniraptora, oviraptoridae
The famous fossil hunter Roy Chapman Andrews discovered Oviraptor during the same expedition that uncovered Protoceratops and Velociraptor. Its skeleton lay next to a nest full of eggs, and its skull was crushed. When Henry Osborn later described Oviraptor, he speculated that the small theropod had attempted to steal the eggs. In this scenario, its head was crushed by a Protoceratops defending “its” eggs. Oviraptor’s species name refers to its presumed habit of stealing the eggs of Protoceratops. But later expeditions found relatives of Oviraptor preserved sitting on their eggs. They prove that the eggs next to the Oviraptor skeleton were really its own, and didn’t belong to Protoceratops. Examples of these eggs and a baby oviraptorosaur skeleton are on display in the main exhibit.
This doesn’t preclude the possibility that Oviraptor ate eggs, although it certainly didn’t eat them exclusively. Oviraptor’s real diet will be difficult to figure because of its crushed skull. Related animals like Citipati had unusual toothless jaws that seem well-suited for crushing shells or nuts.
Several lines of evidence indicate that most, if not all, oviraptorosaurs bore feathers over most of their bodies. Both skeletal evidence and fossil impressions show that at least the males of many species had a fan of feathers on the end of their tails. This suggests that display behavior played an important part of their lives. It is even possible that feathers developed as display structures instead of for insulation or flight. Other fossils suggest complex social behavior for these animals. A 2016 study traced the signatures of phosphorus compounds in eggs from oviraptorosaur nests. Differences in the amount of these compounds between eggs in the same nest show that at least some oviraptorosaurs practiced communal nesting. Several females would lay their eggs in the same nest. Males may have sat on the eggs, though this is less clear. If this is the case, the skeleton Andrews discovered would have belonged to a male Oviraptor.