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A Newly Discovered Dinosaur May Break the ‘Raptor’ Scale

Life restoration by Emily Willoughby of Dakotaraptor steini running with the sparrow-sized birds Cimolopteryx petra,
while the mammal Purgatorius can be seen in the foreground. (Image: Emily Willoughby  via Paleontological Contributions)
Life restoration by Emily Willoughby of Dakotaraptor steini running with the sparrow-sized birds Cimolopteryx petra, while the mammal Purgatorius can be seen in the foreground. (Image: Emily Willoughby via Paleontological Contributions)

Move over Velociraptor, the big boys have been discovered. A team of paleontologists have claimed that this new discovery is one of the biggest raptors that has ever been found. It has been suggested the giant raptor was nearly 17 feet long. The discovery was made in South Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, a famously fossil-rich area.

The giant raptor, named Dakotaraptor steini, was roaming the ancient South Dakotan landscape over 66 million years ago, according to the researchers. At 17 feet long, it is one of the largest ever found, and the largest with confirmed wing feathers.

At 17 feet long it is one of the largest ever found and the largest with confirmed wing feathers. (Image: Robert DePalma/Paleontological Contributions)

At 17 feet long, this newly discovered raptor is one of the largest ever found, and the largest with confirmed wing feathers. (Image: Robert DePalma/Paleontological Contributions)

According to a KU statement, Robert DePalma, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History and lead author of the research, led the expedition to South Dakota where the specimen was found. At the time, he was a graduate student studying with former KU paleontology professor and curator Larry Martin, who died in 2014.

De Palma said: “This Cretaceous period raptor would have been lightly built and probably just as agile as the vicious smaller theropods, such as the Velociraptor.”

The fossils showed the presence of ‘quill knobs’ on the raptors’ forearms.

These knobs are “our first clear evidence for feather quills on a large dromaeosaurid forearm,” DePalma and his team wrote in the paper.

Quill knobs for Dakotaraptor's feather attachment match those of modern birds. (Image: Robert DePalma)

Quill knobs for Dakotaraptor’s feather attachment match those of modern birds. (Image: Robert DePalma)

Evidence of bristle-like “protofeathers” has been found on other large dinosaurs, but Dakotaraptor is the largest dinosaur with true wings discovered to date. However, DePalma wrote:

‘The size and proportions of Dakotaraptor almost certainly preclude its potential for flight.’

Among the finds were its huge claws, which would put a Velociraptor to shame, measuring 9.5 inches (24 cm) along the outer curve, making them one of the largest of any raptor claws known. The reason for their distinctive feature is still a mystery, but some paleontologists speculate that it could have been used to disembowel its prey or cling on to them like a crampon.

Pedal unguals from the Dakotaraptor holotype. A, the right raptorial pedal ungual II in lateral (left) and medial (right) views; B, right pedal ungual from digit III in lateral view. Note the bony tube that encloses the distal portion of the corial groove. (Image: Robert DePalma/Paleontological Contributions)

Pedal unguals from the Dakotaraptor holotype.
A, the right raptorial pedal ungual II in lateral (L) and medial (R) views;
B, right pedal ungual from digit III in lateral view. Note the bony tube that encloses the distal portion of the corial groove. (Image: Robert DePalma/Paleontological Contributions)

 

David Burnham, KU Paleontologist and co-author, said in a news release: “This new predatory dinosaur also fills the body size gap between smaller theropods and large tyrannosaurs that lived at this time.”

The presence of 'quill knobs' is clear evidence that this predator would have had feathers on its arms. (Image: Robert DePalma)

The presence of ‘quill knobs’ is clear evidence that this predator would have had feathers on its arms. (Image: Robert DePalma)

The discovery now raises questions about where it would have fitted in the food chain in the Hell Creek ecosystem. Before this discovery, different growth stages of T. rex were thought to have covered every carnivorous niche, and would have out-competed any other large predators.

But the Dakotaraptor may have avoided any direct competition with the T. rex by using a different style of hunting. Young T. rexes had long legs more suited to pursuing their prey over longer distances, where on the other hand, Dakotaraptor seems to have been built to be the perfect killing machine for ambushing and grappling with its prey.

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