The Gobi Desert on Mongolia’s southern border is a brushland and desert region that includes mountainous terrain and dunes. Today, the desert is home to uncommon creatures such as the Bactrian camel and snow leopard. Back in the Cretaceous Period, Gobi desert dinosaurs roamed a habitat that was completely different from today’s desert climate. Instead, the habitat was forested with conifers and deciduous trees, and the landscape was scattered with lakes and streams, teeming with life.
So what Gobi Desert dinosaur discoveries are the most amazing? The following Gobi Desert dinosaur fossils are the most renowned:
● Natovenator – Swimming Theropod Dinosaur
● Tarbosaurus and baby
● Oviraptor laying on eggs
● Protoceratops in infancy
● Protoceratops vs. Velociraptor
Scientists have found more than 80 genera of dinosaurs fossils, including the first confirmed proof that dinosaurs laid eggs. The Gobi Desert dinosaurs fossils found comprise of sauropods, therapods, and oviraptors.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss the Gobi Desert dinosaurs and their fossils in great detail. The natural history of the Gobi Desert provides a unique look into the dinosaur evolution during the Mesozoic era. The important finds of this place hold scientific importance, and the fossils have been found in multiple geologic layers.
The unique circumstances for fossilization (sandy mudflats and then later dry desert conditions) led to amazing fossil finds in places like the Flaming Cliffs. These fossil finds continue to inspire the scientific community.
Like the Flaming Cliffs, some fossil sites are well known, while others are relatively new excavations and continue to provide new amazing dinosaur discoveries. We’ll also talk about why the Gobi Desert is so important in understanding more about dinosaur eggs. You’re not going to want to miss this, so keep reading!
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Latest Fossil Discovery in the Gobi Desert – Natovenator – Indicates Body Adapted for Swimming
New Discovery December 2022– The Gobi Desert is known for its non-avian theropod dinosaur collections. Scientists have found what some consider to be a well-articulated specimen pointing to a streamlined body similar to penguins and auks, that could have been aquatic. It opens again the question of whether theropod dinosaurs could swim and even hunt for food in the water.
The dinosaur skeleton is considered to be well preserved, and the skull, vertebra, ribs and parts of its legs and claws have been found together. Interestingly, some scientists think they are similar to modern aquatic or semi-aquatic birds. (Source)
The dinosaur was named Natovenator polydontus. It is considered a theropod dinosaur (non-avian) and related to the Velociraptor mongoliensis. According to the Smithsonian Magazine article, Communication Biology researchers “scrutinized the bones of Natovenator carefully. In the end, the researchers determined, Natovenator was a swimmer. “We think it looked like a Cretaceous cormorant,” (Source)
The specific parts of the skeleton that scientists think indicate that Natovenotor was a swimming and aquatic theropod dinosaur are the ribs which are streamlined and pointing towards the tail as in aquatic birds like penguins (“articulated dorsal ribs that are posterolaterally oriented to streamline the body as in diving birds”) and the claws which are also similar in shape to aquatic birds. (Source)
The discovery of Natovenator is exciting because it adds to the mounting evidence that some theropod dinosaurs could have been semi-aquatic and were swimming dinosaurs.
I have covered a few other articles on the topic of whether dinosaurs could swim. Check out these articles if you are interested:
—Can A Tyrannosaurus Rex Swim? What We Know From Fossils
Mongolian Dinosaur Fossils – The Most Famous Gobi Desert Finds
The Mongolian Gobi desert is the sixth-largest desert on earth and Asia’s second-largest desert. Not far from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar are the Flaming Cliffs, where many dinosaur fossils have been found. It’s about 500 miles (9 hours driving) from the capital.
The Gobi Desert is believed to have been the area where many dinosaurs went extinct, as mass amounts of sand slid down the area’s mountains avalanche style. Although many dinosaurs died this way, their remains were left intact for scientists, paleontologists, and other experts to find and study over the decades.
That has allowed for the uncovering of many a high-quality fossils including a real dinosaur egg surrounded by other eggs in a next. Per what we listed in the intro, here’s an overview of these famous Mongolian fossils.
Tarbosaurus and Baby
The Tarbosaurus’ name translates to “alarming lizard.” This theropod with three toes per limb and hollow bones lived during the late Cretaceous period, roughly 70 million years ago. The Tarbosaurus bataar species was the most common hunter dinosaur among the Mongolian dinosaurs.
It’s one thing to find a Tarbosaurus fossil skeleton. But it’s an amazing feat to find not only the full adult skeleton and a juvenile or baby.
The fossil of the Tarbosaurus found in the Gobi Desert featured both the dinosaur and a baby Tarbosaurus. It is far from the only Tarbosaurus fossil, but it is the most famous. In parts of China, which bridges Mongolia via the desert, some parts of the Tarbosaurus were also recovered. That said, these fossils were fragmented and thus not as helpful.
YouTube Video – Fossils of the Gobi Desert
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Oviraptor Sitting on Eggs
The second noteworthy Gobi Desert fossil involves the Oviraptor, a therapod dinosaur with a name that means “egg seizer” in Latin. The fossilized Oviraptor was discovered among a pile of eggs, first assumed as belonging to the Protoceratops, another Gobi Desert dinosaur.
The first Oviraptor discovery was only in 1923 courtesy of George Olsen, who was fossil hunting with Roy Chapman Andrews when he came across Oviraptor remains.
When first discovered, it was thought that the Oviraptor was stealing the Protoceratops’ eggs, and later it was determined that they got this wrong. Instead, it was the first instance confirming that not only did dinosaurs lay eggs, but that they incubated them by sitting on them, similar to modern birds.
Protoceratops in Infancy
The Protoceratops is responsible for two of the most favored fossils from the Gobi Desert. The first of these is the Protoceratops as an infant. This horn-faced dinosaur species shares a resemblance to the Triceratops, but it wasn’t nearly as big.
The significance of the infant-aged Protoceratops fossil acts as a great chance to see what this dinosaur might have looked like at the beginning of its life and how it grew over the years. Interestingly, paleontologists have also found Protoceratops fossil eggs with intact embryos fossilized, which adds to understanding this kind of dinosaur’s full life-cycle.
Through Protoceratops fossils recovered in the Gobi Desert, we were able to put together the P. andrewsi species’ remains as found by W.K. Gregory and Walter Granger in 1923. The P. kozlowskii was discovered in 1975 by Halszka Osmolska and Teresa Maryanska, two paleontologists from Poland.
The P. hellenikorhinus species became officially recognized in 2001. It was a slightly bigger Protoceratops.
Protoceratops vs. Velociraptor
Those Protoceratops fossils are absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but they pale compared to the Protoceratop’s most well-known fossil, the Protoceratops vs. Velociraptor fighting dinosaur fossil. This fossil depicts the Protoceratops in battle with a Velociraptor, specifically the V. mongoliensis.
This fossil’s significance is great because it locked the actual combat for all to see for millions of years. Scientifically we now know that Velociraptors hunted Protoceratops, and as a hunter, Velociraptor had some excellent characteristics to make it a fearsome predator. (Source)
It had speed, agility as well as a large brain in consideration to other dinosaurs. On the EQ scale, which measures dinosaur intelligence based on the brain to body weight, it was 1.8. It indicates that it had the intelligence close to modern-day birds. If you want to know more about dinosaur intelligence, check out my article: Smartest Dinosaur Species – Hunters That Could Outsmart Its Prey.
As mentioned, the two dinosaurs were preserved together. How did this happen, you ask? Experts have a few theories. One of these is that a sand dune could have suddenly fallen, killing both dinosaurs instantly. Since they were battling when the sand collapsed, the dunes preserved them in this state.
Another hypothesis is that the Protoceratops and Velociraptor literally fought to the death, both succumbing to the fight’s efforts or their injuries. Either way, it’s an incredible fossil!
Which Dinosaurs Lived in the Gobi Desert?
The above fossils indicate that dinosaurs called the Gobi Desert home during the Cretaceous Period, but several other species lived here that we have yet to touch on. Here’s a comprehensive overview of the dwellers of this Mongolian region.
Tarbosaurus and Protoceratops
We talked a little about the Tarbosaurus in the last section, but did you know this dinosaur species is related to the Tyrannosaurus? Like the T-Rex, the Tarbosaurus could walk on its hind legs and move its 5.5-short-ton body around relatively freely. It had up to 60 ferocious teeth, and its bottom jaw could lock. It wasn’t as big as the T-Rex, but darn near close.
The Tarbosaurus preferred humid environments, including floodplains with river channels nearby. There, it would eat Nemegtosaurus and Saurolophus.
As the subject of the most famed fossil from the Gobi Desert, the Protoceratops was an important dinosaur in the Cretaceous era. It lived during the Campanian stage of the Upper Cretaceous Period in today’s Mongolia.
Besides its head shape, which is again akin to the Triceratops, the Protoceratops had a noticeable neck frill used to gain other dinosaurs’ approval. Paleontologists think the Protoceratops’ neck frill could have come in handy for keeping its jaw muscles and neck anchored.
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What Raptor Dinosaurs Lived in Mongolia?
The Oviraptor’s fossils are intriguing, but what do we know about this dinosaur? Lots, actually. Another theropod like the Tarbosaurus, the Oviraptor, was alive roughly 75 million years ago as the Cretaceous period neared its end.
With bird-like features, the Oviraptor had a beak (and no teeth) and a ribcage akin to bird species at the time. Its large crest is another noteworthy trait of this dinosaur species. Its beak may have seemed like a weakness, but some paleontologists believed the Oviraptor’s strong jaw was quite crushing. The dinosaur seemed to subsist on the eggs of others.
Everyone knows the Velociraptor thanks to the Jurassic Park films, but were you aware this dinosaur lived during the Cretaceous Period in the Gobi Desert 71 million years ago? The V. osmolskae fossils come from Inner Mongolia in China, while the V. mongoliensis species was found in Mongolia.
A small bipedal dinosaur that was carnivorous, the raptor’s long rear claw on each hindfoot, could disembowel its enemies before consumption. When we say the Velociraptor was small, by the way, we mean it. The Jurassic Park films make the raptor look pretty big and menacing, whereas, in real life, they were about on par with a live turkey in size.
The Citipati may not have had any distinguishing fossils uncovered in the Gobi Desert. However, it still lived in this part of Mongolia during the Cretaceous Period, especially the tail-end of that era. Yet another therapod, the Citipati, is also recognized as an oviraptorid, aka it looks an awful lot like the Oviraptor.
Its name comes from a Hindi term that translates to “funeral pyre lord,” which is pretty awesome. That said, the Citipati had the same kind of natural, even cute features as the Oviraptor, including a small head, a beak, and potentially feathers too. Further attesting to its bird-like nature, the Citipati may have been about as big as today’s emu.
Another Mongolian dweller alive during the end of the Cretaceous Period was the Zanabazar Junior, known as the Saurornithoides junior until 2009, when it was renamed. The new name is in honor of Zanabazar, a Tibetan Buddhist.
This troodontid also had traits like a bird, but not to the extent of the Oviraptor or the Citipati. The Zanabazar Junior outsized those dinosaurs for one thing, and they had a jaw with teeth rather than a beak.
The last dinosaur we want to discuss is the Therizinosaurus, aka the scythe lizard. Although its dinosaur bones were found in the Gobi Desert in 1948, experts believe the Therizinosaurus lived in a part of Asia that today is the Nemegt Foundation.
Unlike many other Gobi Desert dinosaurs, which resembled birds, the Therizinosaurus had traits more like that of a turtle. That includes overarching claws instead of digits and a limited number of bones. The T. cheloniformis species, the only officially recognized one, may have exceeded 45 tons in weight and grew up to 33 feet long.
Gobi Desert Dinosaur Eggs and Other Amazing Discoveries
When it comes to fossil hunting, dinosaur bones are not the only things that get fossilized from the Cretaceous. There are also dinosaur eggs. Of all the regions where dinosaurs lived in the Cretaceous period, the Gobi Desert, green with vegetation and many lakes and rivers, provided a place where dinosaurs felt suitable to lay eggs. The fossil discoveries that were found shed light on nesting habits, caring for their young, and perhaps an insight into the Late Cretaceous dinosaur environment’s ecosystem.
Gobi Desert Dinosaur Eggs
The Oviraptor was one such dinosaur species to lay eggs across Mongolia. Roy Chapman Andrews found these eggs in the 1920s with a fossilized Oviraptor specimen. As mentioned, the eggs were originally thought to belong to the Protoceratops, but they were later identified as Oviraptor eggs. That explains why the eggs weren’t eaten!
Here’s something else very fascinating from the Gobi Desert involving a Protoceratops fossil. Originally found in 1965, decades later, in 2011, paleontologists gave the fossil a more thorough look. They noticed that along with the Protoceratop’s bones being preserved in the fossil, its footprint had as well. Until then, no other dinosaur had had its footprint preserved with it. What an exciting discovery!
When it comes to dinosaur eggs, Gobi desert dinosaur eggs had multiple breakthroughs in this area. I already explained about the intact embryo inside the Protoceratops dinosaur eggs above.
Paleontologists have also found 15 nests of dinosaurs eggs that were grouped together in clusters. The fossilized eggs were laid in similar patterns in each of the nests too. These were Oviraptor dinosaurs similar to the dinosaur that sat on its eggs as described. What this tells scientists is that some dinosaurs nested together and indicates that there was a social nesting behavior similar to birds. Nesting in clusters has its advantages. It is easier to protect the eggs from predators or the dinosaurs sitting on the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the young dinosaurs can be watched over by many, so they don’t stray too far into predators’ clutches. (Source)
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Other Dinosaur Discoveries
Many dinosaurs have been found over the last 100 years since Roy Chapman had his first fossil expeditions to Mongolia. I’ll name a few groups of dinosaurs or flying reptiles that have been found.
● Pterosaurs – These are not dinosaurs, but rather flying reptiles. Still, they lived in the same places as the Gobi desert dinosaurs and what’s exciting about them is that they have similar social behaviors as dinosaurs. One fossil of a Pterosaur flying reptile found in 2017 is related to one of the largest flying reptiles found in Romania.
● The Pterosaur Hatzegopteryx – Both flying reptiles are azhdarchids. The fossil found in Mongolia had a 32 feet (9.75 meters) long wingspan, and scientists think they ate small or baby dinosaurs. Given the habitat and other dinosaurs that live there in nesting colonies, it seems reasonable to think this could be true. (Source)
● Hadrosaurs, also known as duck-billed dinosaurs, have also been found in the Gobi desert. The fossil found was named Gobihadros Mongoliensis, and these dinosaurs are thought to have lived in forest woodlands, grazed on grass and vegetation, and lived during the Late Cretaceous. These dinosaurs had social nesting behaviors that seem to be consistent with other nesting dinosaurs found in the same areas.
● Other Raptors and Oviraptors – Multiple species of bird-like Oviraptors have been found. Additionally, some raptor-like dinosaurs, similar to Velociraptor, have been found.
● Sauropods – multiple species of sauropods have been found in the Gobi desert. One of them, the Opisthocoelicaudia, was a titanosaur, and an almost complete fossil skeleton was found. Another sauropod, Nemegtosaurus, was found, but only the complete skull survived. It looks similar to a Diplodocus (North American). Additionally, the largest known sauropod footprint was found in the Gobi desert in 2018.
● Ankylosaurs – Saichania chulsanensis was an armored herbivore dinosaur that was found in the Gobi desert.
Museums Where You Can See Gobi Desert Fossils
The best places to see Gobi desert dinosaur fossils are:
● American Natural History Museum in New York City has an amazing collection of fossils from the Gobi desert.
● The Central Museum of Dinosaurs in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is a national museum and has been building its fossil collection exhibition and shows some of the best fossils and lesser-known fossils.
● The Dinosaur Museum of Erenhot, in China’s Inner Mongolia, holds a collection of Gobi Desert dinosaurs from China’s Gobi Desert and Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
● The Royal Tyrell Museum, Canada – Famous for its dinosaur exhibit and collection of rare dinosaur fossils from North America, it also has a collection of fossils from the Gobi Desert.
The Gobi Desert and its unpredictable shifting sands may have killed many dinosaurs in the area. Still, those sands also preserved the fossils of hundreds of dinosaurs that expand our understanding of dinosaurs. Thanks to this, we can appreciate many exciting Mongolia fossils to this day, including the “fighting dinosaurs” Protoceratops vs. the Velociraptor, the grand-daddy of Gobi fossils.
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