An Ultimate Guide to Oviraptor: The Egg Thief

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 4th January 2024

Name Meaning“Egg Robber”Height1 to 1.5 meters  (3 to 5 ft.)
PronunciationOh-vee-rap-torLength2 meters (6 ft.)
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight24 to 35.8 kgs (55 to 79 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Saurischia & TheropodaLocationMongolia (Asia)

Oviraptor Pictures

Oviraptor | Kitti Kahotong via iStock

The Oviraptor

Gage Beasley's Oviraptor Concept
Gage Beasley’s Oviraptor Concept

The Oviraptor is a genus belonging to the Oviraptoridae family that lived in Asia during the Late Cretaceous period.

This dinosaur’s name translates to “egg thief”, as paleontologists first believed them to steal and feast on the eggs of other dinosaurs.

This belief comes from the fact that the first Oviraptor fossil discovered in 1923 was found on a nest of around 15 fossilized eggs.

The Oviraptor is one of the smaller dinosaurs to live in Asia.

While they ate meat, Oviraptors are believed to be omnivorous and played a very different role than larger predatory theropods.

When first discovered, there was a lot of mystery about the Oviraptor, and misunderstanding.

Witness the grace and elegance of Oviraptor, a dinosaur with a slender body and distinctive crested head.
Witness the grace and elegance of Oviraptor, a dinosaur with a slender body and distinctive crested head | meen_na via iStock

When first described, Oviraptors were put into the Ornithomimidae family.

In the genus Oviraptor, there is only one species, Oviraptor philoceratops.

As further research was done on the fossil of the Oviraptor, a new family was created for the dinosaur and its relatives.

This article will discuss the Oviraptor and how this dinosaur fit into the ecosystem in Asia during the Late Cretaceous period.

Since their discovery 100 years ago in Mongolia, in 1923, a lot has been learned about the “egg thief,” the Oviraptor.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

Marvel at the beak-like structure of Oviraptor's skull, perfectly adapted for its herbivorous diet.
Oviraptor philoceratops sitting on nest | Nobomichi Tamura via GettyImages

Dinosaurs in the Oviraptoridae group resembled some modern birds today, with some species looking very similar to animals, like the cassowary.

The Oviraptor was a medium-sized and feathered dinosaur.

They had an estimated height of around 1.6 meters (5.2 ft.), and a weight ranging between 33 to 40 kgs (73 to 88 lbs). 

The size of the Oviraptor made them flightless, but they had feathers covering them and even large tail feathers.

Oviraptors had no teeth but a large horny beak like a bird.

Having a short skull, the Oviraptor had jaws designed to be adept at crushing.

Their heads had a large crest on them.

It is not known what the crest did on the top of this species’ head, but some theories include being used to make sound or attract mates. 

Gage Beasley's Oviraptor Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley’s Oviraptor Size Comparison Chart

Fossils of oviraptorids have been some of the best preserved among dinosaur discoveries.

There have been several fossil discoveries of the Oviraptor and its relatives that help scientists learn more about these dinosaurs.

Holotype AMNH 6517 is the first Oviraptor and is of a partial skeleton containing some skull, vertebrae, arms, ribs, and other small bones. 

There have been several other fossils that scientists first thought to be Oviraptors, but further studies showed them to be other types of Oviraptorids.

As more preserved fossils of the Oviraptor were discovered, scientists slowly gained a better understanding of Oviraptorid dinosaurs. 

Habitat and Distribution

The Oviraptor was discovered in Mongolia, within the Djadokhta Formation.

The formation of this dinosaur was found in rocks that date back to Late Cretaceous, around 71 to 75 million years ago.

The Djadokhta Formation, where the Oviraptor lived, had a semi-arid environment with lots of sand dunes.

The Djadokhta Formation in the Cretaceous period was similar to the environment of the Gobi desert today.

While arid in the Oviraptor’s environment, there were also some drainages and rivers.

The environments this dinosaur lived in had lots of sand storms, with little seasonal moisture.

From the Campanian age to the Maastrichitian age, the climate shifted to become more humid in the region. 

Fossilized paw of Oviraptor found in Gobi Desert Mongolia
Fossilized paw of Oviraptor found in Gobi Desert Mongolia | Tatiana Terekhina via iStock

Complete fossils of Oviraptoridae dinosaurs have only been discovered in Mongolia within the Gobi Desert and in Northwestern China.

The climate and environment make of the Gobi desert make the region a hot spot for fossil preservation. 

There are lots of sand dunes and floods in the Gobi desert that allow for the right conditions for fossils to form.

Studies into the first Oviraptor fossil found suggest they died defending their nest in a sandstorm.

Being covered by sand helped preserve the Oviraptor from being eaten by other predators and allowed scientists to find this specimen in the future. 

Behavior and Diet

Life restoration of Oviraptor
Life restoration of Oviraptor | PaleoNeolitic via Wikipedia CC BY 4.0

When first described, the Oviraptor was named the “egg thief”, as it was fossilzed next to a nest of eggs.

Paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn is the one who named this dinosaur, but the Oviraptor is no thief after all.

The eggs the Oviraptor was found next to was actually their own they were guarding.

There have been several theories about what the diet of the Oviraptor must have contained.

In 1997 Mongolian paleontologist Rinchen Barsbold gave the idea the Oviraptors beak could have been used to open shells and mollusks and break through other hard objects.

It was considered these dinosaurs may be herbivorous, but fossilized lizard material found in the body cavity of these species’ holotype indicates they ate meat. 

Side-view illustration of the skeleton of an Oviraptor dinosaur
Side-view illustration of the skeleton of an Oviraptor dinosaur | Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images

 The lower jaw of this dinosaur had a very similar build to parrots, and their top jaw resembled other reptiles like turtles.

It is likely this dinosaur was an omnivore, and they ate both plants and meat.

The beak of the Oviraptor suggested they relied more on plant and fruit material. 

While it is possible the Oviraptor could have eaten eggs, the origin of their name stems from a misunderstanding.

The beak of this dinosaur made it possible they could have eaten food like snails, clams, and fish.

More studies are needed to fully understand the diet of this dinosaur.

Life Cycle

Discover the nurturing side of Oviraptor, as it guards its eggs in a fascinating display of parental care.
Discover the nurturing side of Oviraptor, as it guards its eggs in a fascinating display of parental care | DragoNicaArt via GettyImages

All dinosaurs reproduced by using eggs, but Oviraptors are one of the few dinosaur species that have had fossilized eggs discovered.

The holotype Oviraptor fossil was found with a nest of 15 of its eggs.

Instead of stealing eggs like scientists first thought, the fossilized dinosaur was brooding and caring for its young in its ground nest.

The fossilized Oviraptor was found on top of its eggs, incubating them with its hind legs crouched and arms creating a perimeter around its nest.

The position this dinosaur was found in means Oviraptors could have incubated their nests with their feathers.

Uncover the mysteries of Oviraptor's role in ancient ecosystems, shedding light on its interactions with other dinosaurs.
Uncover the mysteries of Oviraptor’s role in ancient ecosystems, shedding light on its interactions with other dinosaurs | AJC_10_29 via Reddit

This behavior can be seen in modern birds and helps support the theory of behavioral links between avian dinosaurs and birds. 

With the many fossil findings of oviraptorid eggs, these dinosaurs’ are one of the few to have a fossilized embryo discovered.

It is speculated that both parents of this dinosaur stuck around for the first few years of their young’s life.

Likely not all eggs and young would survive due to predators, so sticking together in family units would raise the chance of survival. 

It is not known when this dinosaur went extinct, but researchers believe it died off at the end of the late Cretaceous period. 

Evolution and History

Computer illustration of an Oviraptor dinosaur, also known as Citipati
Computer illustration of an Oviraptor dinosaur, also known as Citipati | Roger Harris via GettyImages

The Oviraptor, when first discovered in 1924, was not understood.

The holotype of this dinosaur was discovered on an expedition led by Roy Chapman Andrews, and this trip was the first proof of dinosaurs reproducing by laying eggs.

At first, the Oviraptor was classified into the Ornithomimidae family, which is a group known to mimic modern birds like the Ostrich.

In 1967 Richen Barsbold noticed there were inconsistencies with Oviraptor and other types of ornithomimids.

These differences created a new class of dinosaurs.

It was only after numerous oviraptorid dinosaurs were discovered on egg sites did the idea that these dinosaurs were egg stealers changed. 

The Discovery of the Oviraptor was an important find since it showcased the link between modern avians and dinosaurs.

Oviraptors have many similarities to birds, like the beak, feathers, and the way they nested. 

Interactions with Other Species

Behold the striking features of Oviraptor's crest, showcasing its unique appearance and potential display functions.
Behold the striking features of Oviraptor’s crest | Image via TravisParkPaleo

In the formation where the Oviraptor was discovered there have several other types of dinosaur fossils that were also pulled out near the region.

Dinosaurs like the Bainoceratops, Velociraptor, Halszkaraptor, Saurornithoides, and Protoceratops have been pulled out of this formation.

Oviraptors were first believed to feed on the eggs of dinosaurs like the Protoceratops.

It is likely the Oviraptor had to be the one to guard its young from other predatory dinosaurs.

While possible these dinosaurs could have eaten meat and been a predator, their size made them vulnerable to larger predators more adapted to hunting.

Oviraptors had a speedy build, if they did eat meat, they likely fed on smaller animals like fish, oysters, or lizards.

While Oviraptors had strong jaws, their toothless mouths were no match to dinosaurs like Velociraptors, who had large teeth and claws.

Cultural Significance

Oviraptor dinosaur at Wingham Wildlife Park.
Oviraptor dinosaur at Wingham Wildlife Park| Image by WWP

Oviraptors eggs were the first scientifically recognized dinosaur eggs discovered.

These dinosaurs brought to light how dinosaurs reproduced and what their eggs looked like.

Oviraptors were first seen as egg stealers, but their parenting skills were helpful in understanding behavior and evolutionary links between birds and dinosaurs.

Being a very popular dinosaur, you can find depictions of the Oviraptor in movies and other media that depict dinosaurs.

These ancient beasts have captured the wonder of people with their bird-like similarities and reptilian features.

Accurate depictions of these dinosaurs in media are not common since the known facts about these types of dinosaurs have changed over the years.

What is known about this dinosaur is bound to change due to constant discoveries about dinosaurs as they are further studied.


The Oviraptor and other similar dinosaurs were very important in helping paleontologists understand how closely related modern birds and dinosaurs are.

Since being first found in Mongolia in the 1920s, there have been a lot of revolutionary discoveries made about these dinosaurs. 

Oviraptors were small dinosaurs that only weighed around 30 kgs (66 lbs.) and had a length of around (6 ft.).

They played an essential role in their ecosystem by preying on smaller animals and being food for larger dinosaurs. 

More research can help gain an even better understanding of how these dinosaurs lived millions of years ago.

Because of the many well-preserved types of Oviraptorids that have been discovered, these dinosaurs have been essential in learning about dinosaur reproduction.

Sometimes it takes several years, even decades, for scientists to describe a fossil and learn about how these animals lived.

Birds are the only type of dinosaur you can still see today.

Some birds today may even slightly resemble the Oviraptor’s appearance, and behavior, even though they lived between 89.8 to 70.6 million years ago. 


Was the Oviraptor a predator or prey dinosaur?

Oviraptors, if they did eat meat, likely fed on animals like oysters, lizards, and other smaller prey.

The size of the Oviraptor made them vulnerable to larger dinosaurs

These larger predators likely fed on the Oviraptor and its eggs.

The eggs of the Oviraptor were bluish-green, which helped them camouflage.

Oviraptors were prey and had to be wary of the various prehistoric predators in their time. 

How many species are in the Oviraptor genus?

Oviraptor philoceratops is the only species of Oviraptor.

There have been several fossils discovered that scientists first believed to be of other Oviraptors, but these were later put into their own genus within the Oviraptoridae family.

It is unlikely for new species of Oviraptor to be discovered since fossils are so rare.

Why are Oviraptor fossils so well preserved?

Oviraptorid dinosaurs are among the most well-preserved types of fossils discovered.

Fossilization occurs when animals are buried in sediment right after death.

The habitat and weather conditions Oviraptorid dinosaurs lived in are why scientists have been able to find nearly complete specimens, as well as fossilized eggs with embryos inside them.

Fossilization is very rare and only happens under the right circumstances.

Deserts and places that get lots of sandstorms can allow for better-preserved fossils to occur. 


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