Terrific Tetanurae #12 : Mahakala omnogovae

In light of a recently discovered short-armed dromaeosaur, this friday we will check out another short-armed member of the family. Enter Mahakala omnogovae. 

75 million years ago, and Mongolia is covered by dry, somewhat barren plains intermingled with small forests, oases, and lakes. As a group of Pinacosaurus wander by a small forest, a male Velociraptor tries to attract mates using his colorful plumage. Suddenly, something catches the Velociraptor’s eye, and curiosity gets the better of him. He starts to jog toward the small theropod, which, in response, dashes away faster then the male Velociraptor can run. The male Velociraptor, somewhat depressed on not catching the theropod, a Mahakala, trots back to his post to continue his courtship display.

Meanwhile, the Mahakala dashes along the dry forest floor, searching for a meal. Suddenly, the Mahakala spots a small lizard, and slowly creeps toward the reptile. The Mahakala strikes and catches the lizard. It will be enough to sustain the dinosaur for the day, but soon hunger will require the animal to hunt again.

At approximately seventy centimeters long (Turner et. al., 2007), Mahakala was no giant predator. Mahakala was also found by Turner et. al. (2007) to be the most basal known dromaeosaurid. This animal is known from a partial skeleton, including portions of the skull (Turner et. al., 2007). As it turns out, the holotype represents what was either a young adult or a near-adult Mahakala. This was a mini-dromaeosaurid, indeed!

It is certainly possible this animal went after small prey such as insects, arthropods, and small lizards. I imagine the small dromaeosaurid darting across the ancient Mongolian landscape, snatching early wasps and the like from the ground, like a sort of ancient land-bound American kestrel. Mahakala might have also fallen prey to the larger dromaeosaurids and troodontids it co-existed with, including the famous Velociraptor and Saurornithoides. 

The iconic skull of Velociraptor mongoliensis at the American Museum of Natural History.

The iconic skull of Velociraptor mongoliensis at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author, 2015.

Holotype skull of Saurornithoides at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author, 2015.

Holotype skull of Saurornithoides at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by the author, 2015.

Yet, as with almost every animal to have existed on Earth, Mahakala succumbed to extinction. The dromaeosaurids themselves would survive for around another 10 million years, when, during one of the largest extinction events in Earth’s history, an asteroid hit the planet we call home, causing drastic global environmental changes and damage. Mahakala itself would be remembered by the specimen of a young adult, locked away in a tomb of sandstone.

Mahakala omnogovae by the author. Pencils on paper, 2015.

Mahakala omnogovae by the author. Pencils on paper, 2015.

References

1. Turner, A. H.; Pol, D.; Clarke, J. A.; Erickson, G. M.; Norell, M. .2007. “A basal dromaeosaurid and size evolution preceding avian flight.” Science 317(5843): 1378–1381.

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