When European scientists found their first platypus skeleton, they thought that the duck-billed mammal was surely false. "Naturally, it excites the idea of a deceptive preparation by artificial means," wrote the British zoologist George Shaw in 1799. The specimen looked like a bad attempt of a new false species, destined for a collection of bass freakshow budget. .
Modern researchers are a little more open-minded, but they seem to have a similar reaction to the newly discovered Halszkaraptor escuilliei .
"It was so strange that we suspected that it could have been a chimera, a mixture of different skeletons stuck in. It would not be the first time," said Andrea Cau, of the University of Bologna, The Atlantic .
Why skepticism? Well, as is the case with many fossils, the researchers who studied it did not manage to dig up the bones of the Gobi desert. Instead, the creature fluttered through the black market for years before finding its way to an expert for examination.
"The illicit trade in fossils presents a great challenge for modern paleontology and explains a dramatic loss of the scientific heritage of Mongolia," Pascal Godefroit the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels said in a statement. As long as these stolen specimens finally get some academic attention, they are often difficult to classify due to uncertainty about their location of origin and lack of care to preserve important structures during excavation and transportation.
Then there is the fact that Halszkaraptor escuilliei basically looks like a Velociraptor with the neck of a swan. Oh, and fins. It has fins.
Basically it's a killer swan with fins.
But this duck dino of 75 million years was very real, as reported Cau and his colleagues this week in the journal Nature ] They used a synchrotron multiresolution X-ray microtomography to lean out to the stone that still It surrounded a large part of the fossil and reconstructed a high-resolution image of the bones. The data helped rule out the possibility of paleontological cutting and gluing work, and paleontologists believe that the characteristics of the odd duck point to an amphibian lifestyle.
That would be unusual for a therapod, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes the ancestors of modern birds (and this fossil). In general, it is thought that marine reptiles – like the mosasaur in the Jurassic World – ruled the water while the dinosaurs dominated the land.
According to the researchers, their X-ray scans suggest that while they were on land, the dinosaur walked like a duck (the jury has declared if it also cawed like a duck, although other studies have suggested that dinosaurs look like birds they probably looked like birds). In the water, he may have used his fins to swim, and his long neck to ambush his prey.
Anyone who has had a terrifying childhood encounter with a swan or a goose in the park will be horrified to imagine this carnivorous hook, a crocodile tooth version of his recurring nightmare. Of course, none of us will be so lucky (or unlucky) to see this majestically ugly duckling in person, so it's hard to be 100 percent sure it existed.
"I am very enthusiastic about this fossil, but I think it raises more questions than it answers," said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the new study, Live Science . He is not convinced that the evidence supports a semi-aquatic existence for this predator, or even that the fossil is absolutely, certainly not false. "We will probably debate about it for years."
Assuming that Halszkaraptor escuilliei is not a very well constructed hoax or a big fish that has some fish characteristics: the dinosaur shows how little we know about the creatures that once roamed our planet. We can only wonder what other strange beasts have not yet been discovered.