Duck-Like Dinosaur Had a Goose-Like Neck and Velociraptor Claws

The Halszkaraptor escuilliei is an unexpected discovery in the world of paleontology and dinosaurs, as it shares features with some creatures not typically associated with one another.

On December 6, some unusual findings were published in Nature, The International Journal of Science. These findings—a particular set of unearthed skeleton fossils—were impeccable, considering they are likely from 71 to 75 million years ago.

Interestingly, these fossils were not initially discovered by researchers. Poachers dug up these fossils somewhat recently, smuggling them out of Mongolia and likely through China into the fossil markets of Europe. As Mongolia is the origin of over five percent of all known dinosaur species, and quite remote in location, it has served as a hotspot for the fossil poaching market.

Philip Currie, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, and a co-author of the study published in Nature, explained, “We were seeing specimens basically destroyed by people who had no sympathy for the scientific value of these specimens, let alone the display value or attracting tourism.”

In this case, this never-before-seen dinosaur discovered in Mongolia is apparently a remnant from the late Cretaceous period. It bore semi-aquatic features, never before seen in dinosaurs. Because this skeleton is so unique, it even establishes a new subfamily of dinosaurs.

It is worth noting that many other fossil specimens from the same region do meet criteria of this family. They are therefore part of the same branch of the evolutionary tree, though not in the newly-established subfamily.

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Reconstruction of the amphibious bird-like dinosaur Halszkaraptor. The fossil is named for Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmólska, who discovered one of the dinosaur’s closest known relatives. (Lukas Panzarin/National Geographic)

With a neck similar to that of a goose, wings like those of penguins and sharp claws like those of velociraptors, this particular bird-like incarnation is an entirely unique find. This is at least true for dinosaurs, though it is long-established that some birds live in manners unseen in the dinosaur kingdom — like ducks, swans or geese, all of which switch between land and water habitats.

This newly-discovered dinosaur is called Halszkaraptor escuilliei, and according to an email from paleontologist at the Giovanni Capellini Geological Museum at the University of Bologna, Andrea Cau, “This is the first dinosaur with a lifestyle similar to aquatic birds — this indicates that these dinosaurs were able to exploit an environment that was not considered in our previous interpretation of dinosaur history.”

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