A newfound Late Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaur, however, is a doppelganger for living cassowaries, which are the third-tallest and second-heaviest modern birds, smaller only than the emu and ostrich. Cassowaries have the ability to kill animals, including humans, by charging and kicking them.
The new dinosaur, described in an article in the journal Scientific Reports, was — like cassowaries, emus, and ostriches — covered with feathers, yet it could not fly. Lead author Junchang Lu and colleagues think it is possible that today’s flightless birds never did have ancestors that took to the skies. Feathers can serve functions other than enabling flight, such as by providing insulation and enabling forms of visual communication.
The dinosaur’s most distinctive feature had nothing to do with feathers, though, but did inspired its name: Corythoraptor jacobsi. Corythoraptor refers to a “raptor bearing a cassowary-like crest” on its head. The crest, technically known as a casque, was like a horn helmet covered with keratinous skin. Keratin is a fibrous protein that forms the main structural constituent of hair, claws, and other tough tissues.
Like horns on deer and antelope, the dinosaur’s casque might have helped choosy individuals to select their mates by using the size, shape, and other features of the head structure as visual fitness cues.
Cassowaries use their casques for similar reasons, although scientists continue to debate other possible functions. Some suggest the head feature is great for cutting through underbrush, while others think it might amplify the big bird’s deep sounds.
Cassowary calls are so creepy sounding that they have been included in horror film soundtracks. It is possible that dinosaurs like Corythoraptor produced similar vocalizations.
The researchers suspect that Corythoraptor craved meat.
“They might have eaten lizards, small dinosaurs, and other small animals,” Lu explained.
Lu and his team now believe that Ganzhou “was home to the world’s greatest known dinosaur diversity.”
Numerous other dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes have been discovered at this location over the years. Banji long, for example, once lived there and was a small and scrappy carnivore with a parrot-like face. It and many other dinosaurs once flourished where high-speed trains now zip through Ganzhou.
The past could also meet the present in terms of Corythoraptor’s lineage. The researchers cannot confirm that the dinosaur was directly related to today’s cassowaries, but the similarities between these birds and the dinosaur are numerous: head casques, long necks, chubby feathered bodies, muscular legs, an appetite for meat and more.
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