Name: Huanansaurus ganzhouensis
Meaning: The name is a clue to where this dinosaur was found. Huanansaurus means “southern China lizard”, and ganzhouensis refers to the locality Ganzhou where it was uncovered.
Age: Late Cretaceous, around 72 million years ago.
Where in the world?: Ganzhou, southern China.
What sort of critter?: Huanansaurus was an oviraptorosaur – a group of beaked, superficially bird-like dinosaurs.
Size: Not yet estimated, but roughly comparable to oviraptorosaurs like Citipati.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: A partial skeleton including the skull, seven neck vertebrae, elements of the forelimbs, both hands, and partial elements from the hindlimbs.
Claim to fame: Although paleontologists have known about them for about a century, oviraptorosaurs remain among the oddest dinosaurs. They looked something like terrestrial parrots, complete with flashy feathers and striking cranial crests that help researchers distinguish between species. And in their entire history, there seems to have hardly been a better time or place for them than the Late Cretaceous of southern China.
In their description of Huanansaurus, Junchang Lü and colleagues point out that China’s Nanxiong Formation has yielded at least six different genera of oviraptorosaurs in recent years – Banji, Ganzhousaurus, Jiangxisaurus, Nankangia, Shixinggia, and, now, Huanansaurus. It’s a greater diversity of these beaked theropods than anywhere else.
Why so many oviraptorosaurs have come out of the Ganzhou region isn’t clear, and multiple possibilities come into play. The dating of these fossils isn’t very precise, so maybe the six different oviraptorosaurs lived in the same place but at different times. And perhaps some of them will turn out to be synonyms of each other. Fragmentary skeletons and the relatively small sample sizes paleontologists have to work with often complicates where to draw species lines. But if all the Ganzhou oviraptorosaurs truly were neighbors, then they must have had some way of coexisting – what ecologists call niche partitioning – that we don’t yet understand. There’s still much to learn about this oviraptorosaur paradise.
Lü, J., Pu, H., Kobayashi, Y., Xu, L., Chang, H., Shang, Y., Liu, D., Lee, Y., Kundrát, M., Shen, C. 2015. A new oviraptorid dinosaur (Dinosauria: Oviraptorosauria) from the Late Cretaceous of Southern China and its paleobiological implications. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/srep11490