By Mia Becker-Hansen| Contributor
According to the study, the skeletons are said to date back to the Late Cretaceous period (up to one-hundred million years ago), the last of all the dinosaur periods, which ended in their extinction. Though dinosaurs dominated the era, at this time many modern mammals made their first appearance and species such as snakes and lizards developed distinct characteristics that are still seen today.
The remains found were that of four juveniles resting together, suggesting that the species were social in their youth and roamed in groups.
By modelling the skeleton, researchers predict that the two-meter long feathered dinosaur stood at around half the height of an adult human, and had a large toothless beak similar to that of a modern-day parrot. Unlike their close relatives the three-fingered oviraptor, Oksoka aversan only has two digits on its arm; the discovery could aid in explaining how animals lose digits through evolution over time.
The oviraptors family moved on two legs, and its large hard beak allowed it to crush food and other objects for consumption (such as hard fruits, eggs and possibly also shellfish). In fact, the name oviraptor comes from the Latin for ‘egg taker’ or ‘egg thief’.
The finding of the adaptation could imply that the dinosaurs could also alter their diet and lifestyles to allow the species to spread and diversify during the period. The arms and hands evolved as they moved to new geographic areas, including the site of discovery, and also what is now North America.
The loss of the third finger through evolution appears gradual, with it first reducing in size before disappearing altogether. The reasoning behind this adaptation remains unclear, but it is believed to have possibly been related to a change in diet or foraging style.
The leader of the study, Dr Gregory Funston, remarks: “[The Oksoko aversan’s] two-fingered hand prompted us to look at the way the hand and forelimb changed throughout the evolution of oviraptors—which hadn’t been studied before. This revealed some unexpected trends that are a key piece in the puzzle of why oviraptors were so diverse before the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.”.
The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, was funded by The Royal Society and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. It also involved researchers from the University of Alberta and Philip J Currie Dinosaur Museum in Canada, Hokkaido University in Japan, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.Science and Technology