A new feathered dinosaur species called Dakotaraptor has been unearthed at Hell Creek Formation, in South Dakota’s Harding County. The announcement was made by researchers at Kansas University, and a scientific paper detailing the discovery was published on October 30 in the online journal Paleontological Contributions.
The fossil, which included wing portions, teeth, wishbone, tail vertebrae and leg bones, has been analyzed by a team of experts led by Robert DePalma, curator of vertebrate paleontology, at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.
It is believed that this predator roamed the area, around 66 million years ago, co-existing with other dinosaur species such as Tyrannosaurus Rex, the duck-billed Edmontosaurus, as well as the three-horned Triceratops.
The species was around 6 feet tall, and approximately 17 feet long, but that didn’t stop it from reaching high velocities, of around 30 to 40 mph. In speed, it was similar to ostriches nowadays, but in deadliness, it surpassed it by a large margin. Due to its strong muscles and 9.5-inch claws curved on the middle toes, it could ravage any herbivores it encountered, according to paleontologists who studied it.
“It had one of the strongest killing strokes in that slashing claw of any raptor known”, explained DePalma.
When it came to agility, Dakotaraptor (Dakatoraptor steini) rivalled smaller, but extremely vicious theropods such as the Velociraptor, which was roughly the size of a turkey.
The discovery is exciting, because it’s the first time that scientists have identified a giant dromaeosaur in the Hell Creek Formation, a region which includes southwestern North Dakota, northwestern South Dakota, eastern Wyoming and eastern Montana.
Only two large dromaeosaurids had been unearthed before in North America, while the vast majority of this dinosaur family featured small to medium members.
Dakotaraptor is slightly smaller than Utahraptor, which was the largest known Dromaeosaurid, having about 22 feet in length. Its build is also different: its bones are much thinner, and its leg proportions provided it with greater speed and nimbleness.
The fossil is also important because there are quill knobs on the dinosaur’s forelimbs, which is the first known evidence that some giant raptors might have had feathered wings.
Although paleontologists believe Dakotaraptor couldn’t actually fly, it most likely would’ve looked like a “turkey from hell”.
Also, according to speculations, its feathers did actually have a function: they were used to scare other predators away, or to attract and trap prey. Alternatively, the wings could’ve been employed in mating rituals, or as a means to keep eggs warm and incubate them.
It may also be that one of the raptor’s ancestors was indeed capable of flying, or that this species was evolving in that direction.
Image Source: Fossilera