Citipati was an oviraptorid, a group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs that had toothless beaks and often had crests like a cassowary on their heads. Citipati lived around 80 million years ago in what is now Mongolia, and is known from several nearly complete skeletons. Citipati’s remains are often used as a basis for the more popular – but less well-understood – dinosaur called Oviraptor, a close relative. Though Oviraptor means “egg thief”, several skeletons of Citipati have been found in a nesting position, showing that the eggs this dinosaur is believed to have stolen might have been its own eggs that it was nurturing.
Genera and Species
Classification: Theropoda, Oviraptoridae.
Genus: Citipati (named after a Buddhist spirit associated with funeral pyres)
Species: C. osmolskae and one unnamed species
Citipati was about the size of a modern day emu and may have behaved similarly. It had a long neck, a relatively short tail and a high, short skull with a parrot-like beak. It had a thin vertically flattened crest on its head like a cassowary, and scientists believe it was likely covered in feathers.
LENGTH: 3 meters (10 ft)
WEIGHT: 160 kg (75 lbs)
Citipati likely ate both plants and animals. They helped to solidify the link between birds and dinosaurs, as many skeletons have been discovered in a “brooding” position, sitting atop a nest with arms spread around it, a behavior that is found in modern birds. The arms, likely covered in feathers, would protect and hide the eggs in the nest.
While Citipati and other oviraptorids may indeed have eaten other dinosaurs’ eggs, the original association with egg stealing was due to a misunderstanding. Initial remains of Oviraptor were found with eggs near Protoceratops, an early ceratopsian. The eggs were believed to belong to Protoceratops, but later fossilized embryos of Citipati found inside fossil eggs showed that the original eggs probably belonged to Oviraptor, not Protoceratops.
History of Discovery
Citipati was not officially discovered until 2001, but a skull belonging to an unnamed oviraptorid and long associated with Oviraptor is now believed to be a species of Citipati. The initial skeletons of this dinosaur, which appeared to be dancing, helped inspire the name – The “Citipati” Buddhist spirits are often depicted as dancing skeletons.
Citipati lived in a desert environment, with sand dunes and occasional oases. It shared its environment with Byronosaurus, a troodontid and cousin of Velociraptor.
- Paul, G. (2016). The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, 2nd Edition. Princeton, New Jersey: University Press Princeton.