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‘Lord of the spear’ dinosaur all for show

Donna Coutts, December 16, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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Artist’s impression of Ubirajara jubatus. Picture: Bob Nicholls/ media_cameraArtist’s impression of Ubirajara jubatus. Picture: Bob Nicholls/


Reading level: green

Scientists may have solved the mystery of the weird body parts of a small, birdlike dinosaur called Ubirajara ­jubatus.

The theropod, which looked like something out of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them* book, had really long, thin and probably impractical nails that stuck out from its neck.

It’s now thought the sticking-out bits had no practical use but were all for show.

The research results, released this week, of the study of a fossilised skeleton of Ubirajara ­jubatus found in Brazil in the 1990s, suggest that the bits were an early version of the kind of display we see in modern peacocks. It’s the earliest known example of this kind of display feature.

media_cameraPeacocks’ tail feathers don’t serve a practical purpose, but they do help attract a mate. Photo: Ron Bloxham

The name Ubirajara jubatus is from a Tupi* name for ‘lord of the spear’.

The unusual protuberances — which means sticking out bits — of the dinosaur were made of keratin, which is what fingernails, hair and feathers are made from.

Ubirajara ­jubatus also had a mane of fur, which the researchers believe was connected to muscles that would have allowed the mane to be raised.

The fancy looks were probably about attracting a mate, according to the University of Portsmouth’s Robert Smyth, the lead author of the study.

“Evolutionary success is about more than just surviving, you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes* on,” Mr Smyth said.

Theropods were a group that included all the big, meat-eating dinosaurs, though Ubirajara ­jubatus was only the size of a chicken.

It lived in Brazil 110 millions years ago and its fossilised skeleton was incredibly well preserved because it died in a very salty lagoon. The salt pickled the body and over many years sediment* settled on top and turned to stone.

Fossilised feathers from an early bird and fossilised muscle fibres and blood vessels have been found on this site. Palaeontologists* are hopeful that one day they’ll find the fossilised remains of a feathered dinosaur.

The study is published in the scientific journal Cretaceous Research.


  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: a 2001 guide book about the creatures of the Harry Potter universe by JK Rowling
  • Tupi: indigenous people of Brazil
  • genes: information about how the body looks and functions, passed from one generation to the next
  • sediment: fine silt that settles at the bottom of a lake, river or ocean
  • palaeontologists: fossil scientists


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  1. What does the name mean?
  2. List three things you now know about this dinosaur.
  3. What group of dinosaurs did it belong to?
  4. Where was the dinosaur found? When?
  5. Where are the results published?


1. Find the Facts
Little is known about this dinosaur.

The article does give some known facts about Ubirajara ­jubatus and where and when it lived.

Draw a labelled diagram of the dinosaur in the middle of an A4 page and write the facts that are known about this dinosaur around it that you can find in the article. At the bottom of your page, write 3 questions you still have about it.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
You need a good imagination to beat nature!

Create your own incredible creature — either from the past or the present day — that has several features that are weird, wonderful and hard to believe.

Draw a picture of your imagined creature, labelling its strange features and the purpose of each of these features. Don’t hold back! Give your creature a name, label your drawing with the name and write a sentence below the name that explains why you chose that name.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative thinking

An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.

Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article

Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?


Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.

Have you used any in your writing?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What catchy name would you call Ubirajara ­jubatus?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in animals