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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.