The nearly complete oviraptorid dinosaur embryo (bottom), outer surface of oviraptorid dinosaur eggs (Photo : Reuters)
75 million years ago, a distant relative of the T-Rex and Velociraptor known as the oviraptor may have used its feathers to attract mates, much like modern birds such as the peacock and turkey.
"When I saw the tail of my first oviraptor, it was immediately obvious that something very strange, very different was going on with it," admits Scott Persons, the lead author of a study recently published in the journal Acta Paleontologica Polonica.
Fossils of the vegetarian, toothless dinosaur were gathered from the Gobi Desert and analyzed by Persons and his team at the University of Alberta.
Persons notes that the "big muscles in the tail were those associated with swinging and swishing, pulling and tugging the tail up and down, and side to side...You have, I think, a tail that is specifically adapted to flaunt its feathers. Swish it from side to side, show off the trail, strike a sinuous pose and hold it."
Interestingly, the same characteristics were not as pronounced on sexually underdeveloped toddlers, allowing researchers to infer behavioral mating habits from the fossils.
"We're starting to get to the point where we can move away from simple description. We've got enough information in front of us that we can start connecting the dots and thinking about more sophisticated things like behavior," adds the lead author. "Between the crested head and feathered-tail shaking, oviraptors had a propensity for visual exhibitionism."