Halszkaraptor escuilliei




By Maya Jade McCallum on @hauntedmech


Name: Halszkaraptor escuilliei

Name Meaning: Halżka Raptor

First Described: 2017

Described By: Cau et al. 

Classification: Dinosauria, Theropoda, Neotheropoda, Averostra, Tetanurae, Orionides, Avetheropoda, Coelurosauria, Tyrannoraptora, Maniraptoriformes, Maniraptora, Pennaraptora, Paraves, Eumaniraptora, Dromaeosauridae, Halszkaraptorinae

Halszkaraptor is a recently described genus of raptor, and it is weirder than the spelling of its name: it’s a long necked Dromaeosaurid with adaptations for a semiaquatic lifestyle, much like a modern cormorant. Yup. A Raptor. A cousin of Velociraptor. That was adopted for living in the water. And it wasn’t the only raptor like this – the phylogenetic analysis of the original description indicates that Mahakala (a raptor previously thought to be the basal-most Dromaeosaurid and relatively similar to the ancestral Paravians) and Hulsanpes (which, you’ll remember, we did recently on ADAD, as a general “who knows” Paravian. So we gotta update that entry at some point.) But I digress. Let’s focus on Halszkaraptor, the weirdest dinosaur discovery since Yi


By Ashley Patch on @palaeoshley

Halszkaraptor is known from an almost complete skeleton, found articulated in a pose almost as though it were displaying, or even about to swim. It lived in the Djadokhta Formation of Mongolia, living about 75 to 71 million years ago, in the Campanian age of the Late Cretaceous. This environment is where Halszkaraptor’s specific ecology becomes really interesting – the Djadokhta Formation, as far as anyone is aware, is a fairly arid environment, with sand dunes and very few sources of fresh water apart from things like oases and desert creeks. So – without much freshwater – where would an animal like Halszkaraptor have even lived? What did it feed on? The formation also doesn’t preserve much in the way of non-tetrapod fish – a frog is known, but little else in that vein. Yet, here is a dinosaur, with clear adaptations for aquatic living. And they proved it, too. 


By Joschua Knüppe, retrieved with permission from 252mya

The describers, first of all, thoroughly scanned the skeleton to make sure it wasn’t a fake – that a fossil tradesman hadn’t put together parts of multiple different dinosaurs to try and earn more money selling it to scientific researchers. They scanned it with multiple resolutions to show that all the bits of the skeleton were embedded in the original rock it was fossilized, and that the skeleton is all connected to each other along the vertebrae, as were the parts of the hand, and the rest of the skeleton. So it’s not a fake. And then, on top of that, they charted the ratios of the different fingers of the hands, as well as the proportions of the forelimbs, with modern birds, crocodilians, other nonavian dinosaurs, and some other extinct animals that show aquatic adaptations. It showed a clear adaptation for aquatic life similar to long-necked aquatic reptiles of the Mesozoic (like plesiosaurs), and a wing morphology in between that of penguins and other aquatic birds. 


By Fraizer on @saint-nevermore

So, not only does its body shape indicate that it was semi-aquatic  in its lifestyle, it may have even had small flippers, on the way to something like what we see in the modern aquatic dinosaur group, the penguins. This is, of course, under debate, and it may have had small wings like modern cormorants or other semi-aquatic dinosaurs. Either way, the rigorousness of this study shows that this was not a hoax or just weirdly proportioned – it was uniquely adapted for a very specific ecology, and one that would have been very rare in its environment. It had a long neck that it could use to forage for fish, and its flattened out forelimbs that could be raised up like that in modern birds would have let it swim through the water, flipper or not. It would have walked on its hind limbs on land, much like modern water fowl, and probably used its tail for balance. Interestingly enough, due to its aquatic adaptations, its body posture would have been more upright – like modern birds – due to a shift in its center of gravity, and it would have been as horizontal as other nonavian dinosaurs. 


By Joschua Knüppe, retrieved with permission from 252mya 

Halszkaraptor also had a somewhat flattened and long skull – not a beak or a bill as in modern birds, but certainly resembling them, and used for fishing in the oases and rivers in its habitat. It would have looked much like a weird goose with teeth, given its long neck, thicker torso, and bill-like snout; and it even had the sickle claws characteristic of Eumaniraptorans, so just picture a goose with teeth and sickle claws so you get an idea of what kind of thing we’re dealing with here. And, even though its very specific ecological role seems strange, it’s not entirely surprising – the Djadochta Formation is absolutely overloaded with land-based predators, dinosaurs and not – such animals as Byronosaurus, Gobivenator, Zhuchengytrannus, Tsaagan, Velociraptor, Saurornithoides, and many others were present and competing for prey, so perhaps heading to the few sources of water available was a major benefit for Halszkaraptor in trying to survive. In any case, regardless, it was a beautiful, magnificent, just amazing weirdo of a dinosaur 


Cau, A., V. Beyrand, D. F. A. E. Voeten, V. Fernandez, P. Tafforeau, K. Stein, R. Barsbold, K. Tsogtbaatar, P. J. Currie, P. Godefroit. 2017. 


Shout out goes to @justsalim!

I really need to finish drawing this guy.