Environment

Deceptive feathered dinosaur gets a fitting name

Apatoraptor pennatus eluded researchers for decades
  • Apr 17, 2016
  • 265 words
  • 2 minutes
Illustration: Sydney Mohr/University of Alberta
Apatoraptor pennatus, identified and named by University of Alberta PhD candidate Gregory Funston. Paleoartist Sydney Mohr used modern birds as inspiration for the colouring in this life reconstruction. (Illustration: Sydney Mohr/University of Alberta)
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A feathered dinosaur species identified by a University of Alberta PhD candidate has finally received a name befitting its enigmatic identity.

The Apatoraptor pennatus—whose name means “deceptive thief”—was identified from disregarded bones that had been sitting on a shelf since 1993.

The bones were collected in Alberta’s Horseshoe Canyon, and misidentified as belonging to a more common ornithomimid dinosaur. The bones were put in storage at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, where they stayed until the skeleton was prepared for the museum’s 25th anniversary in 2008. That’s when Gregory Funston, a student of world-renowned paleontologist Philip Currie, noticed that something wasn’t right.

Funston noted that characteristics of the finger bones and toothless jaw were different than expected for an ornithomimid. A CT scan of the well-preserved skeleton revealed scars on the arm bones that suggested this dinosaur had mobile feathers on its arms, probably used to attract a mate. (Because Apatoraptor is estimated to have been quite large, weighing about 180 kilograms, Funston doesn’t believe it could fly.)

Apatoraptor turned out to be a caenagnathid, a member of a group of flashy theropods known for using feathered appendages such as head crests, tail feathers, and—as Funston’s discovery suggests—even wings in mating displays.

Funston said the discovery will help researchers gain a better understanding of caenagnathids.

“This is my first time naming a new dinosaur,” he said. “It’s really exciting on a personal level, but what I am most excited about is what it means for the field of paleontology. It’s a really important specimen.”

Nicole Rutherford contributed reporting to this story

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