How Much Do You Know About Gigantoraptor?Taena Doman
The evocatively named Gigantoraptor wasn't really a raptor--but it was still one of the most impressive dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era. On the following slides, you'll discover 10 fascinating Gigantoraptor facts.02of 11
Gigantoraptor Wasn't Technically a RaptorWikimedia Commons
The Greek root "raptor" (for "thief") is used very loosely, even by paleontologists who should know better. While some dinosaurs with "raptor" in their names (Velociraptor, Buitreraptor, etc.) were true raptors--feathered dinosaurs with characteristic curved claws on each of their hind feet--others, like Gigantoraptor, weren't. Technically, Gigantoraptor is classified as an oviraptorosaur, a bipedal theropod dinosaur closely related to the central Asian Oviraptor.03of 11
Gigantoraptor May Have Weighed as Much as Two Tons
Unlike the "-raptor" part, the "giganto" in Gigantoraptor is completely apropros: this dinosaur weighed as much as two tons, putting it in the same weight class as some smaller tyrannosaurs. (Most of this bulk was concentrated in Gigantoraptor's enormous torso, as opposed to its relatively thin arms, legs, neck and tail.) Gigantoraptor is by far the largest oviraptorosaur yet identified, an order of magnitude bigger than the next-biggest member of the breed, the 500-pound Citipati.04of 11
Gigantoraptor Has Been Reconstructed from a Single Fossil SpecimenGovernment of China
The only identified species of Gigantoraptor, G. erlianensis, has been reconstructed from a single, near-complete fossil specimen discovered in 2005 in Mongolia. While filming a documentary about the discovery of a new genus of sauropod, Sonidosaurus, a Chinese paleontologist accidentally excavated a Gigantoraptor thighbone--which generated a fair amount of confusion as researchers tried to figure out exactly what type of dinosaur the femur belonged to!
Gigantoraptor Was a Close Relative of OviraptorAn Oviraptor with its egg (Wikimedia Commons).
As stated in slide #2, Gigantoraptor is classified as an oviraptorosaur, meaning it belonged to that populous central Asian family of two-legged, turkey-like dinosaurs related to Oviraptor. Although these dinosaurs were named for their presumed habit of stealing and eating other dinosaur's eggs, there's no evidence that Oviraptor or its numerous relatives engaged in this activity--but they did actively brood their young, like most modern birds.06of 11
Gigantoraptor May (or May Not) Have Been Covered with Feathers
Paleontologists believe that oviraptorosaurs were covered partly, or completely, with feathers--which raises some issues with the enormous Gigantoraptor. The feathers of of smaller dinosaurs (and birds) help them to conserve heat, but Gigantoraptor was so big that a full coat of insulating feathers would have cooked it from the inside out! However, there's no reason Gigantoraptor couldn't have been equipped with ornamental feathers, perhaps on its tail or neck. Pending further fossil discoveries, we may never know for sure.07of 11
"Baby Louie" May Be a Gigantoraptor EmbryoWikimedia Commons
The Childrens' Museum of Indianapolis harbors a very special fossil specimen: an actual dinosaur egg, discovered in central Asia, containing an actual dinosaur embryo. Paleontologists are fairly sure that this egg was laid by an oviraptorosaur, and there's some speculation, given the size of the embryo, that this oviraptorosaur was Gigantoraptor. (Since dinosaur eggs are so phenomenally rare, though, there may not be enough evidence to decide this issue either way.)
The Claws of Gigantoraptor Were Long and SharpWikimedia Commons
One of the things that made Gigantoraptor so terrifying (besides it size, of course) was its claws--the long, sharp, lethal weapons that dangled from the ends of its gangly arms. Somewhat incongruously, though, Gigantoraptor seems to have lacked teeth, meaning it almost certainly didn't actively hunt large prey in the manner of its distant North American relative, Tyrannosaurus Rex. So what exactly did Gigantoraptor eat? Let's see in the next slide!09of 11
Gigantoraptor's Diet Remains a MysteryWikimedia Commons
As a general rule, the theropod dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era were devoted meat-eaters--but there are some nagging exceptions. The anatomical evidence points to Gigantoraptor and its oviraptorosaur cousins being near-exclusive herbivores, which may (or may not) have supplemented their vegetarian diets with small animals that they swallowed whole. Given this theory, Gigantoraptor probably wielded its claws to reap low-hanging fruit from trees, or perhaps to intimidate its hungry theropod cousins.10of 11
Gigantoraptor Lived During the Late Cretaceous PeriodJulio Lacerda
The type fossil of Gigantoraptor dates to the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago, give or take a few million years--only about five million years before the dinosaurs were rendered extinct by the K/T meteor impact. At this time, central Asia was a lush, teeming ecosystem populated by a huge number of small (and not-so-small) theropod dinosaurs--including Velociraptor and Gigantoraptor--as well as easily hunted prey like the pig-sized Protoceratops.11of 11
Gigantoraptor Was Similar in Appearance to Therizinosaurs and OrnithomimidsDeinocheirus, an ornithomimid similar to Gigantoraptor (Wikimedia Commons).
If you've seen one giant, ostrich-shaped dinosaur, you've seen them all--which raises serious problems when it comes to classifying these long-legged beasts. The fact is that Gigantoraptor was very similar in appearance, and probably in behavior, to other strange theropods like therizinosaurs (typified by the tall, gangly Therizinosaurus) and ornithimimids, or "bird mimic" dinosaurs. To show just how narrow these distinctions can be, it took decades for paleontologists to classify another giant theropod, Deinocheirus, as an ornithomimid.