You've Never Known a Dinosaur Like This Before

'Natovenator polydontus' is first found with streamlined ribcage for swimming and diving
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2022 9:16 AM CST
A New 'Swimming' Dinosaur Emerges
A depiction of Natovenator polydontus.   (Yusik Choi)

Paleontologists have discovered a dinosaur unlike any other known so far. Its Latin and Greek name, Natovenator polydontus, means "swimming hunter with many teeth." Yes, swimming. "I think like a swimming Velociraptor is a pretty good characterization," Philip Currie of the University of Alberta, co-author of a study on the newly discovered species, tells the Wall Street Journal. "But in terms of what it's doing, it's certainly more like a penguin or shorebird in that it's fishing." The well-preserved partial skeleton of the dinosaur, which measured only about a foot long, was found in Mongolia's Gobi Desert in 2008. It had a streamlined ribcage like modern diving birds, which has never been seen before "in dinosaurs outside of birds and their closest extinct relatives," per National Geographic.

The authors of the study published Thursday in Communications Biology believe the dinosaur walked on land more than 70 million years ago but spent most of its time swimming, chasing after fish. Its ribs angled toward its tail, resulting in a narrow midsection, thought to help modern penguins and cormorants swim through water. "We think it looked like a Cretaceous cormorant," study co-author Sungjin Lee of Seoul National University tells Smithsonian. Talk of swimming dinosaurs is controversial, however. Takuya Konishi, a University of Cincinnati paleontologist who wasn't involved in the study, thinks Natovenator instead hung out on the water's surface, using its goose-like neck to grab prey, as its two front legs may have been too small to allow it to swim well, per the Journal.

Its mouth, packed with teeth, was certainly suited to snacking on "small, slippery or wriggling prey" like fish, per Smithsonian. Ultimately, the fossil suggests "dinosaurs' habitats and lifestyles were more diverse than once thought," per NatGeo. It adds backing to the idea that another dinosaur described in 2017, Halszkaraptor, was semiaquatic. It also had a goose-like neck plus a snout that would've been filled with nerves, suggesting it could sense movement in water much like today’s crocodiles. But the fossil's rib cage wasn’t very well preserved, leaving some doubt. As Halszkaraptor is a close relative of Natovenator, it's likely it too had a streamlined ribcage suited for lakes and streams, NatGeo notes. (Read more dinosaurs stories.)

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