Citipati VS. Prenocephale
75 Million Years Ago, in the forested hills of what would become present day Mongolia, Citipati finds herself in a strange new environment very much unlike the arid desert dunes of its home. Dense stands of tall conifer trees give way to river deltas, with thickets of low shrub brush stretching from the tree line out towards the water.
Citipati’s anxiety at being displaced into an unfamiliar environment is only enhanced by the clutch of eggs she must find a way to protect and brood. Rather than build a nest on the exposed gravel of the stretch of land that border the river, Citipati gently rolls her eggs towards the brush, where she carves a depression between the plant stalks, assembles her clutch, and hunkers down to brood the eggs. (Norrell et al., 2018)
Upstream, a small group of Prenocephale are busily foraging in the scrub for tender new stalks and high sugar fruits (Maryanska & Osmolska, 1974, p.97.) It is late in the growing season and the mature fruits, though not terribly plentiful, are a prize worth foraging for. As the group works its way along the riverbank, the Prenocephales keep their heads down in the brush, unaware that their approach is causing the nesting Citipati increasing concern.
One Prenocephale begins to outstrip the rest of the group, pursuing the promisingly strong scent of what must be a dense treasure trove of ripe fruits just up ahead. The speed of his approach alarms Citipati, who rises up partway out of the brush, puffing up and shaking her feathers in a defensive display intended to deter the Prenocephale’s approach. But the Prenocephale, with his head in the shrub and intent on rooting out the source of the wonderful smell, fails to notice. Citipati, perceiving the Prenocephale as a threat, rises to her full height. Hissing and posturing, the oviraptor attempts to drive the Prenocephale back without leaving her clutch of eggs vulnerable. In the face of this impressive display, the Prenocephale has become fully aware of both Citipati’s presence and displeasure at being approached. However, he has also finally caught sight of the cluster of fruits that he has been seeking since he smelled them on the wind up river. They are a couple of meters from Citipati’s nest.
In a split-second decision, the Prenocephale lunges for the fruit, judging the chance of acquiring food worth the risk of tangling with an oviraptorid not much larger than himself. At the same time Citipati, who has been pushed to the edge of her tolerance for threats to her nest, kicks out with a powerful leg. Rather than striking the Prenocephale on his armored and shock-resistant forehead dome (Snively & Cox, 2008), the kick connects under the animal’s chin with a sickening crack. Stunned and thrown off balance, the Prenocephale makes a hasty retreat out of the scrub and onto the gravel embankment.
The rest of the browsing Prenocephales have finally caught up, and the whole group skirts carefully around the still defensive Citipati and her nest.
There are other fruits to be found, and no fruit is worth another meeting with Citipati’s clawed feet.