Crests perhaps sheathed in coloured horn crowned
the males' heads in Oviraptor mongoliensis and Oidraptor philoceratops. They resemble the
bony helmet of a cassowary, a bird that butts its way through forest undergrowth
headfirst. Oviraptorids like Ingenia probably had brightly coloured skin, but no crest.
This toothless theropod gets its name from the
notion that it stole and ate horned dinosaurs' eggs: the first oviraptor philoceratops to
be discovered had a smashed skull and was found lying on a nest of Protoceratops eggs.
Oviraptor had strong jaws, and inside its mouth there were bony prongs with which it could
easily have crushed the hard eggshells of other dinosaurs. A very similar method is used
by egg-eating snakes which use the sharp bones in their necks to smash eggs.
If an oviraptor were surprised at the nest, running
away would have been the best strategy in the face of its strongly built but less speedy
enemies. Sometimes, though, it seems that a Protoceratops stamped an Oviraptor to death
before it could escape or put up a fight.
There were two Oviraptor species, both of which
lived in Late Cretaceous Mongolia. The animal shown in the main picture on these pages is
Oviraptor philoceratops, which lived in semi- desert. In this habitat, eggs could have
been essential as a source of moisture and nourishment.
A second species, Oviraptor mongoliensis, had a
tall, domed crest, much larger than that of Oviraptor philoceratops. This animal lived
near lakes and rivers rich in shellfish. One scientist concluded that it swam in search of
food, sculling along with its deep tail, scooping up shellfish such as cockles and mussels
with its hands, and crunching them between its jaws.
Diet: Molluscs, eggs
Size: Length 2m
Time (million years ago): 83-73