Scelidosaurus vs. NemegtomaiA
Time Period & Environment: Early Jurassic Charmouth Mudstone Formation of England. Coastal plains with low scublands.
Written By: Emily Bamforth
The Scelidosaurus ambles along through the low scrub, pausing now and then to lower his triangular-shaped head to the ground to munch on a tasty fern. The early relative of ankylosaurs and stegosaurs was having an uneventful but peaceable day. Scelidosaurs are the largest and most abundant dinosaur along this early Jurassic coastline. Once they reached their adult size of around 4m-long, they knew few other animals would bother them. If one of the small Coelophysid theropods made a bold attempt at an attack, the parallel rows of bony plates along their backs would protect them.
In the act of bending his head to chomp on another fern, the Scelidosaurus pauses and squints at something strange in the distance. There is movement about 300m away on an exposed mudflat. Curious, he shuffles a little bit closer to get a better look.
A strange animal, about the size of a St. Bernard dog is digging at the wet mud with it’s feet. It’s not like any creature the Scelidosaurus has seen before. It walks on two legs like the small Coelophysid theropods he’s familiar with and, like them, is also extravagantly feathered. It’s the animal’s head that the Scelidosaurus finds most intriguing. The animal has an almost flat face with a sharp cropping beak that lacks teeth and a brightly coloured crest runs the length of its skull from front to back.
This is a Nemegtomaia, an oviraptor from the Late Cretaceous, and she is doing what mother oviraptors do best: building a nest. Or rather, she is trying to build a nest. This heavy mud is very different from the soft sandy substrate she is used to in her native Mongolia. It clings to her claws, making the going hard.
When the Scelidosaurus ambles closer, the Nemegtomaia stands and fluffs up her plumage to make herself look bigger. She lowers her head and clacks her beak, emitting a high-pitched chirping sound. Unfamiliar with oviraptors of any kind, the Scelidosaurus neither recognizes nor heeds this impressive warning display. He just wants to know what is in the hole the Nemegtomaia was digging.
Although the Nemegtomaia is not a particularly small dinosaur, she is lightly built, all hollow bones and feathery fluff. The Scelidosaurus barrels her over with ease, pushing his triangular head into the hole she’s been digging to see if there is anything edible in it.
As if the preserve her dignity, the Nemegtomaia straightens up, preens her feathers, and takes her leave. There must be a better place to build a nest somewhere.