Dive into prehistory and meet a newly discovered semi-aquatic dinosaur with a streamlined body and many teeth

A new dinosaur species has been discovered unlike any dinosaur found to date. This dino’s streamlined body was built for diving, scientists say.

The dinosaur’s body was similar in shape to those of modern diving birds like penguins and auks. The animal has been named Natovenator polydontus, meaning “swimming hunter with many teeth.” The fossilised remains of Natovenator were discovered in Omnogovi Province in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

The animal is described in a paper published in Communications Biology. The research was led by palaeontologist Professor Yuong-Nam Lee and colleagues from South Korea’s Seoul National University.

Natovenator was a species of carnivorous, non-avian theropod dinosaur that walked on two legs.

A mostly complete skeleton, skull features, spinal column, one forelimb, and the remains of two hindlimbs were found. But Natovenator’s body is unique among theropods. The authors of the study suggest that its odd morphology is adapted to being a semi-aquatic diving predator.

An unusually high number of teeth in relation to its jaw size are also suggestive of a fish or insect based diet. More evidence, such as fossilised stomach remains would be required to confirm this.

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With ribs that point towards its tail and a long neck like that of modern water birds such as geese, Natovenator’s body would have produced less drag while swimming. By looking at the physiology of Halszkaraptor, Natovenator’s closest cousin and another semi-aquatic theropod, the researchers suggest that the dinosaur probably used its forelimbs to propel itself through the water – like a penguin.

Reconstruction of Natovenator polydontus. Artist: Yusik Choi.

Previous research on the non-avian theropod group halszkaraptorines showed they were adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle similar to modern day waterfowl.

“Because streamlining of the body provides hydrodynamic advantages during swimming, this particular dorsal rib morphology strongly indicates that Natovenator was a capable swimmer, providing the first compelling evidence of a streamlined body in a non-avian theropod dinosaur,” the authors write.

The researchers also highlight that Natovenator shows that non-avian theropods may have had a diversity of body plans. Such insight adds a layer to our increasing understanding of dinosaurs and the different ecological niches they may have filled.

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