An Ultimate Guide to Citipati: Lord of The Funeral Pyre

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 20th October 2023

Name MeaningFuneral Pyre LordHeight1.5 meters (4.9 feet)
PronunciationSih-tee-pah-teeLength2.5 to 2.9 meters (8.2 to 9.5 feet)
EraMesozoic Era CretaceousWeight75 to 83 kgs (165 to 183 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia & TheropodaLocationAsia

Citipati Pictures

Citipati | CoreyFord via Getty Images

The Citipati

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Citipati Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Citipati Concept

The Ovirpatorid family of dinosaurs is one of the most intriguing, as when looking at their fossils it is clear to pinpoint the similarities that dinosaurs had with modern birds. 

One of the most abundant of Ovirpatirods has been Citipati, and their fossils have been essential in learning more about Oviraptorids. 

Living around 75 to 71 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period, it inhabited Asia, and was one of the largest of ovirpatorids of their time.

Discovered in the 1990s, Citipati was described in 2001.

Citipati | MR1805 via Getty Images

There have been several well-preserved specimens found of Citipati, helping scientists better understand the genus, and build a better connection between dinosaurs and modern birds.

This article will cover the “funeral pyre lord” Citipati, including things like how these dinosaurs lived, what they ate, and how their discovery changed the understanding of dinosaurs overall.

While what is accepted about dinosaurs is always changing due to new discoveries, genus like Citipati allow further research to be done because of how abundant, and well-preserved their fossils are. 

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Physical Characteristics

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Citipati Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Citipati Size Comparison Chart

Citipati is a large species of ovirpatorid, and were originally considered to be one of the largest in their family until the discovery of Gigantoraptor

These dinosaurs walked on two legs, and had a height estimated between 2.5 to 2.9 meters (8.2 to 9.5 ft.) when fully grown.

Citipati had a weight between 75 to 83 kgs (165 to 183 lbs.), and when compared to other theropods their necks were very large for their size, and tails small. 

They are believed to have feathers covering their entire bodies, with large tail feathers, large arm feathers, and plumage similar to modern birds. 

The skull of Citipati was short and high, with a large space that allowed air to pass through. 

Citipati was an omnivorous theropod dinosaur that lived in Mongolia during the Cretaceous Period. | CoreyFord via Getty Images

Similar to the Cassowary that is alive today, Citipati had a tall crest on top of its head. 

Also like birds, Citipati had a stout beak for a mouth, which lacked teeth. 

The hands of these dinosaurs were clawed, and they had three toed feet that also had sharp claws. 

It was a theropod that had many similarities to birds like their beaks, many feathered, and sharp toes. 

Their appearance showcases many signs that birds evolved from dinosaurs. 

Habitat and Distribution

Citipati was discovered in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, which is located in northwestern China. 

These dinosaurs lived in semi-arid environments, and even during the Cretaceous period the Gobi Desert was a very dry environment like it is today. 

Fossils from Citipati and other Ovirpatorids showed that during the Cretaceous period these dinosaurs were very abundant in desert habitats in Asia. 

While larger dinosaurs are typically found in wetter environments like rainforests, the hotter environments were filled with species that were much smaller.

Despite being one of the larger ovirpatorids, Citipati is still a relatively small dinosaur when compared with giants like the Spinosaurus that dominated tropical environments. 

Citipati of the Cretaceous Period. | CoreyFord via Getty Images

The smaller size and diet of Ovirpatorids like Citipati allowed them to dominate the semi-arid environments, and they are one of the most common dinosaurs of their time. 

While living in Asia around 75 to 71 million years ago, there have been several well-preserved fossils found of Ovirpatorids, including rare findings like eggs, and embryos. 

The desert habitats that Ovirpatorids lived in is one of the main reasons their fossils have been abundant.

A lack of water allows fossils to experience less weathering overtime, and it is also possible for animals to be killed and preserved by sandstorms. 

Behavior and Diet

A Pair of Citipati | MR1805 via Getty Images

The jaws of Citipati suggest these dinosaurs fed on a variety of things, which may have included low lying plants, small animals, insects, and possibly even eggs. 

When compared with other ovipratorisds like Incisivosaurus, Conchorpator, and Khaan the Citipati had a much stronger bite force.

The design of the parrot-like beak of these dinosaurs suggest that they were mostly herbivorous, and ate very dense vegetation.

While plants, seed and fruit likely made up most of their diet, these dinosaurs could have also preyed on smaller prey.

Similar to other omnivores like ornithomimosaurs, Citipati likely ate whatever food was most abundant in their environment. 

Line drawing of the holotype skull | PaleoNeolitic via Cranial Anatomy of Citipati osmolskae (Theropoda, Oviraptorosauria), and a Reinterpretation of the Holotype of Oviraptor philoceratops (CC BY 4.0)

It is also suggested that these dinosaurs used their extremely strong bite force on shelled animals like mollusks, and clams in water nearby.

Dinosaurs like Ovirpatorids get their family name since they were originally thought to steal and eat the eggs of other dinosaurs, but they were found to just be caring for their own eggs.

Out of all the Ovirpatorids Citipati had the strongest bites, and scientists found this out by studying the muscles in their face, and mechanics of their jaw.

Due to the dense vegetation found in deserts oviraptoridae like Citipati likely evolved to eat the thick vegetation.

Life Cycle

Citipati embryo IGM 100/971 | Eduard Solà via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The abundance of fossils from Citipati is why these dinosaurs have been able to be studied in-depth including their life cycle of how they reproduced.

Like most dinosaurs, they also lay eggs, and placed them in nests on the ground in a circular pattern. 

It was possible for them to lay up to 22 eggs, and with their eggs having a size of around 18 cm (7 in.), they are the largest known ovirpatorid egg. 

There have been several groups of oviraptorid eggs discovered, found within the Gobi Desert. 

After laying their eggs Citipati would guard their eggs, and brood on them similar to modern birds. 

Citipati | CoreyFord via Getty Images

These dinosaurs would protect their eggs from predators, and weather conditions like rain or wind. 

Their feathers were used to attract a mate, and could have been used for courtship, similar to birds like peacocks.

Citipati fossils and other ovirpatorids have helped scientists figure out potential lifespans of dinosaurs, and when they reached sexual maturity.

Brooding dinosaurs like Citipati could have lived from 6 to 18 years, and they likely reached sexual maturity very quickly in their life, before reaching max size. 

The nesting behavior of these dinosaurs was one of the first examples of evidence that scientists had connecting birds with dinosaurs. 

Evolution and History

Citipati specimen IGM 100/979, popularly known as “Big Mama” | ★Kumiko★ via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Its fossils were discovered within the Gobi Desert, in the Djadokhta Formation, found with an abundance of other fossil remains from life from the Late Cretaceous.

The type species Citipati osmolskae was described in 2001, and these dinosaurs are one of the most common, and best known ovirpatorids.

The Citipati name originates from the Sanskrit words of “citi”, which means funeral prye, and “pati” which means lord.

The name of Citipati references the lord of cemeteries in Tibetan Buddhism folklore, while their species name references the polish paleontologist Halszka Osmoska.

Citipati specimen IGM 100/1004, also known as “Big Auntie” | Steve Starer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When first discovered Ovirpatorids were a misunderstood group of dinosaurs, since they were believed to have preyed on the eggs of other dinosaurs. 

The discovery of an embryo that was nearly complete helped confirm that these dinosaurs were guarding, and brooding their eggs.

Citipati were originally put in the Oviraptorinae subfamily, but in 2020 this changed, and they were included into the new subfamily of Citipatiinae. 

In the future what is accepted about these dinosaurs may change, but the many well-preserved fossils of ovirpatorids make them one of the most well known types of dinosaurs. 

Interactions with Other Species

Group of Citipati | MR1805 via Getty Images

Citipati was one of the largest dinosaurs in the sandy habitat they lived in.

Deserts typically can only support smaller life since they lack water and food, and larger animals also overheat more. 

Citipati was an omnivorous dinosaur, and could have eaten plants like seeds, or thick vegetation, but are also believed to have eaten clams and other smaller life.

Despite living in a sandy desert, there were lots of small bodies of water that appeared in the desert it lived in. 

Other dinosaurs that lived alongside Citipati include small ceratopsians like the Protoceratops, and the Pinacosaurus, and the Velociraptor

While very large compared to other oviraptorids it was not an apex predator, as it was not equipped with taking out large prey.

These dinosaurs and other Ovirpatoroids would have been prey to carnivorous dinosaurs like the Velociraptor, the Tarbosaurus, and other carnivores in the Late Cretaceous in the Gobi Desert. 

Cultural Significance

Citipati in Jurassic Park | Photo via Jurassic Park Wiki

Citipati is one of the most common dinosaurs seen in media, and they resemble some of the birds like ostriches, and the cassowary.

Modern large flightless birds have many similarities to it, and these dinosaurs have brought into light many of the similarities between birds and dinosaurs.

You can find it in games like Jurassic Park and Ark, and they are a very common species to see in the media since they have been so well studied. 

Feathers in dinosaurs were once controversial in the past, but Citipati and other similar species have also shown scientists what types of feathers dinosaurs had, and how they used them. 

Oviraptorids have also been important in understanding how dinosaurs grow overtime, and they have been one of the few types of dinosaurs found with an embryo, egg, and adult stage discovered. 

Since the fossils of Citipati, and other similar species have been so well preserved, their depictions are more accurate than many other dinosaurs that may lack fossils preserved in good condition. 


Citipati was one of the most abundant of Ovirpatorids found in the Gobi desert.

These dinosaurs have been extremely well preserved due to their abundance in Asia during the Late Cretaceous period, and the environment they lived in.

The fossils of Ovirpatorids like Citipati have helped scientists figure out the connections that dinosaurs had between modern birds.

It is one of the largest in its family, and also one of the most powerful, having the strongest bite force.

These dinosaurs were very abundant in Asia during the Cretaceous period, and were well adapted to the desert, helping them dominate their environment. 

Living millions of years ago there are still new things being discovered about dinosaurs, and genus like Ovirpator have been essential in learning more about these ancient animals due to their abundance. 


How did scientists know Citipati had feathers?

Fossils of Citipati is how scientists know these dinosaurs had feathers, but it is not as simple as finding fossilized feathers on them.

A specimen was found of them brooding suggests they had feathers which they used to protect their eggs.

Other dinosaurs discovered, and growth material on bones that look similar to feather growth also helps confirm the feather theory. 

Could Citipati fly?

Dinosaurs like Citipati were non-avian, similar to birds today like the cassowary or ostrich.

While they had feathers their weight was too large, and their feathers could not support their weight if they attempted to fly. 

Why did Citipati go extinct?

Citipati and other ovirpatorids went extinct around 71 million years ago.

They likely died off with the other dinosaurs when the asteroid extinction event occurred.

Volcanic eruptions also could have contributed to the death of these dinosaurs.


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