Citipati, meaning “funeral pyre lord”, is a genus of theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period of what is now Mongolia. It is known from the Djadokhta Formation in the Gobi Desert. It is one of the best known oviraptorids thanks to a number of well preserved fossils, some of which have been found in brooding positions on top of egg nests. These findings help solidify the link between non-avian dinosaurs and birds. It was first described by James M. Clark, Mark Norell, and Rinchen Barsbold in 2001. The type species is C. osmolskae. A second species may also exist, but is yet unnamed.
The name Citipati is derived from the Sanskrit words citi, meaning “funeral pyre”, and pati, meaning “lord”. In Tibetan Buddhist folklore, the citipati were two monks who were beheaded by a thief, while in a deep trance. They are often depicted as a pair of dancing skeletons surrounded by a flame, hence the use of the name of the well preserved skeletons of the dinosaurs. The type species was named in honor of Halszka OsmÃ³lska, a well known paleontologist whose work with oviraptorid dinosaurs has been well documented.
Citipati was about 9 feet in length and were the best known oviraptorids until the discovery of Gigantoraptor in 2007. Citipati had an unusually long neck and a shorter tail, compared to most other theropods. Its skull was short and had many openings in the bone structure. It had a toothless beak. One of the more unique characteristics was its tall crest, somewhat similar to that of a modern cassowary.
At least four Citipati dinosaurs have been discovered in brooding positions. One, named “Big Mamma”, was first announced in 1995, but not described in detail until 1999, and not referred to as Citipati until 2001. All of the brooding individuals were situated on top of egg nests, with limbs spread symmetrically on each side of the nest, and front limbs covering the perimeter. This posture is found today only in birds and supports a behavioral link between birds and theropod dinosaurs. The brooding posture also indicates the possibility of feathered limbs. With the arms spread along the nest, most of the eggs would not have been protected by the mother’s body unless a broad coat of feathers was present.
It is normally rare to find well preserved fossilized dinosaur eggs, but Citipati and other oviraptorid eggs are generally well known. Along with the nesting specimens, dozens of other isolated nests have been uncovered in the Gobi Desert dig site. The eggs are elongated and oval shape. Eggs were typically arranged in concentric circles of up to three layers. A complete clutch may have had up to 22 eggs. The eggs were approximately 7 inches long, making them a few inches larger than other oviraptorid eggs.