Tag Archives: velociraptor

New species of feathery raptor found in New Mexico

A newly-discovered dinosaur species from New Mexico is one of the last raptors to have walked the Earth, researchers report — and they were feathered.

The species, christened Dineobellator notohesperus, lived 67 million years ago in today’s New Mexico, and its discovery helps us better understand life in the region during the last days of the dinosaurs.

Artist’s reconstruction of Dineobellator notohesperus.
Image credits: Sergey Krasovskiy.

The fossils were found in 2008 by Robert Sullivan of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, in Cretaceous-aged rocks from the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. Recovery of this initial specimen took four (archeological) field seasons. The name they gave the species means “Navajo warrior from the Southwest,” in honor of the people who today live in the region.

American raptor

Dineobellator is a relative of the Asian (and well-known) species Velociraptor, both part of the dromaeosaurid group — the infamous ‘raptors’. It was, however, much smaller than the raptors you’d see in movies, only being about 3.5 feet (about 1 meter) wide at the hip and 6 to 7 feet (about 2 meters) long.

The team wasn’t able to recover a complete skeleton, but even so, the finding is very exciting. Raptor fossils tend to be pretty rare, as the animals were relatively small and lightly-built predators, and their remains are often destroyed before or during fossilization. “While dromaeosaurids are better known from places like the northern United States, Canada, and Asia, little is known of the group farther south in North America,” says Steven Jasinski, lead author of the study.

Bones from the animal’s forearms show quill nobs, the team explains, which are small surface bumps where feathers would attach to ligaments, making it overwhelmingly likely that Dineobellator sported feathers similar to the Velociraptors. Other features of its skeleton, such as enlarged areas where the claws would attach, suggest that the species would try to latch onto its prey — likely with its smaller forelimbs being used for smaller animals such as birds and lizards, and the feet for larger species such as dinosaur.

The tail also shows some interesting characteristics, the team notes. Most raptors have quite stiff, straight tails, but Dineobellator’s was rather flexible at its base. The authors believe the species used its tail as a rudder of sorts to help preserve balance.

“Think of what happens with a cat’s tail as it is running,” says Jasinski. “While the tail itself remains straight, it is also whipping around constantly as the animal is changing direction. A stiff tail that is highly mobile at its base allows for increased agility and changes in direction, and potentially aided Dineobellator in pursuing prey, especially in more open habitats.”

The team says this find supports the theory that all raptors had feathers, and offers us insight into their hunting behavior.

“It was with a lot of searching and a bit of luck that this dinosaur was found weathering out of a small hillside,” he adds. “We do so much hiking and it is easy to overlook something or simply walk on the wrong side of a hill and miss something. We hope that the more we search, the better chance we have of finding more of Dineobellator or the other dinosaurs it lived alongside.”

The paper “New Dromaeosaurid Dinosaur (Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from New Mexico and Biodiversity of Dromaeosaurids at the end of the Cretaceous” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

What if Disney princesses were dinosaurs?

Now there’s a question you don’t ask yourself every day – or ever, for that matter – what if Disney princesses were dinosaurs? Laura Cooper of the webcomic XP asked herself that question, and took it upon her to reimagine them as velociraptors. The results – you can see below.

 

I won’t tell you who the princesses are, but I’m sure you can identify at least most of them. I have to say, they still keep their charm even after being dinosaurified.

Velociraptor’s cousin was an even better predator

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a new species of dinosaur, closely related to the famous velociraptor. This new species, Saurornitholestes sullivani was a bit bulkier, probably had a better sense of smell, and researchers believe it was an even better predator than its cousin.

Steven Jassinski and the skull fragment.

“This was not a dinosaur you would want to mess with,” said University Pennsylvania doctoral student Steven Jasinski, author of a study of the new species, said in a press release.

 

Velociraptors got their fame thanks to Jurassic Park, but they weren’t actually that prevalent – they only lived for about 4 million years, and they didn’t live in the Jurassic, heh. They inhabited the Earth approximately 75 to 71 million years ago during the later part of the Cretaceous Period, after the Jurassic.

Jasinski analyzed a skull fragment which was initially found in 1999 and considered a member of Saurornitholestes langstoni, another species of therapod dinosaurs. Jasinski wasn’t convinced, so he ran a comparative analysis of the specimen to other S. langstoni specimens, and he found some small, yet significant differences.

For starters, the surface of the skull responsible for the sense of smell was unusually high – which indicates that it probably had an excellent sense of smell.

“This feature means that Saurornitholestes sullivani had a relatively better sense of smell than other dromaeosaurid dinosaurs, including Velociraptor, Dromaeosaurus, and Bambiraptor,” Jasinski said. “This keen olfaction may have made S. sullivani an intimidating predator as well.”

 

Measuring less than 3 feet in length, the dinosaur wasn’t intimidating through sheer size, but was likely quick and agile, and possibly hunted in packs, which made it a fearsome predator, even more so than the more well known velociraptor.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Turkey Sized Vegetarian T-Rex Discovered

A seven year old has discovered the fossil of a turkey-sized dinosaur that roamed South America over 140 million years ago. The tiny dinosaur was related to T-Rex, but had few similarities to it; aside for its size, the dinosaur was a vegetarian, munching on plants instead of terrorizing other creatures.

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi grew up to ten feet long Photo: Reuters

At the end of the Jurassic period, the Earth was very different from what it is today. Average temperatures were a whopping 3 degrees Celsius higher than today, there was virtually no frozen landmass, and of course, dinosaurs ruled the planet. But while most dinosaurs were huge and terrifying Chilesaurus diegosuarezi was nothing of sorts.

It had short arms and hands with two fingers, like T-Rex, but feet that resembled long-necked dinosaurs. It could grow up to ten feet, but the discovered specimen was about as big as a turkey. It was part of the same group as Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus, from which modern birds evolved, but it’s just strange.

“Chilesaurus is so unexpected, so drastically different than anything else we’ve seen before. It’s an anatomical Frankenstein,” says Lindsay Zanno of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Photo: Reuters

The species really riddled paleontologists, who have rarely seen such a hybrid and enigmatic dinosaur. So strange was the dinosaur that initially, scientists believed they were dealing with several different species.

“It’s like a T. rex that’s been shrunk but not shrunk equally,” says Pete Makovicky, an associate curator and dinosaur specialist at The Field Museum in Chicago, who was not involved in the new find. “This animal would’ve looked more silly than fearful … more similar to an ostrich than to T. rex.”

The fossil was actually discovered 11 years ago, when Diego Suarez was only 7 and he was accompanying his geologist parents on an expedition, and the little boy playing actually discovered the dinosaur, who was named in his honor – a remarkable case of beginner’s luck.

“Out of nowhere, two small things appeared. … They were fossils,” Suarez says by email. He ran to show his mother. His parents, he says, “were amazed. You (can) imagine it was, to them, like wining the lottery.” The family sent the fossils to dinosaur specialists in Argentina.

Diego Suarez has a passion for fossils. (Photo: Manuel Suarez)

In terms of evolutionary significance, Chilesaurus seems to throw a curveball. Its ancestors were meat eaters, its living relatives were meat eaters, but it ate plants. It had vertebrae and front limbs like T-Rex and velociraptor, but its feet, ankle and some of its pelvis looked like they belonged to a completely different branch of plant-eating animals. In a way, it’s like a platypus – a creature that embodies distinctive traits from entirely different species.

Martin Eczurra, a PhD student at Birmingham University said:

“Chilesaurus can be considered a ‘platypus’ dinosaur because different parts of its body resemble those of other dinosaur groups due to mosaic convergent evolution. In this process a region or regions of an organism resemble others of unrelated species because of a similar mode of life and evolutionary pressures.”

It might also provide some insight into evolution itself.

“Chilesaurus provides a good example of how evolution works in deep time and it is one of the most interesting cases of convergent evolution documented in the history of life. It comes as false relationship evidence may arise because of cases of convergent evolution – such as that present in Chilesaurus.”

Journal Reference: Fernando E. Novas et al. An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile. Naturedoi:10.1038/nature14307

Dragon dinosaur could really run, glide and fly

Why would a dinosaur with a body built for running have not two, but four wings, as well as a feathered tail? There seems to be only one real reason: flying. But why would it need to fly in the first place? Paleontologists have long wondered about it, but now it seems, they’ve finally found an answer.

The small, crow-sized diosaur was a member of the Dromaeosauridae family, a family of small theropod dinosaurs. They were small- to medium-sized feathered carnivores that flourished in the Cretaceous Period. Microraptor’s aerodynamic wings allowed him to be a master of control, whether it was running on the ground, elegantly gliding or even flying.

“In terms of aerodynamics, the hind wings would have increased its rate of turn by 33 to 50 percent, compared to using only the front wings,” said Michael Habib of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, who co-presented the research at an annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Raleigh, North Carolina, last month.

The world of small dinosurs was no less brutal or dangerous than that of big dinosaurs; competition was acerb and brutal, and even the slightest advantage was extremely important.

“No one’s going to argue that this was the fastest animal in the ecosystem,” Justin Hall of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County said. “This was an animal about the size of a crow, living among predatory dinosaurs at a time when the largest animal in the air had a 15-foot [4.6-meter] wingspan! So, a 33-percent increase in turning speed could have meant the difference between life and death.”

There were however some problems with this idea. The long, narrow front wings seem perfectly suitable for flapping and gliding, but the short, bulky back wings tell a different tell – they would in fact impair flying. But Habib and Hall argue that perhaps lift wasn’t the point.

“If you were trying to use those blocky hind wings to glide, they would be very poor at that,” said Habib. “But if you care more about a very rapid, powerful motion such as turning than you do about sustained motion, being ‘draggy’ is fine.”

According to him, the way the dinosaur flew is really similar to how you would ride a canoe, helping yourself with the paddles.

“When you’re trying to turn a canoe quickly, often the best thing to do is to stick the paddle down in the water and produce a lot of drag.”

As Habib continued, and I have to admit I had no idea about this, there are three main rotational forces that affect flight: yaw (side to side), roll (circular), and pitch (up and down). The size, strength and location of Microraptor‘s hind legs would have improved all of them, but only yaw and roll would have actually helped it turn.

So this leaves us with only a classic question to answer: which came first, running or flying? In other words, was it small dinosaurs that evolved wings and started dwelling in trees and flying, or the other way around? That’s still not clear, although the first option does seem more likely to paleontologists.

Microraptor, the cousin of the much better known Velociraptor was a fierce predator – don’t let the size fool you! Researchers once found a full bird conserved inside its stomach – all still digested in one piece. The fact that many fossils were found with bird bones inside suggests that they ate birds a lot, which suggests they spent a lot of time in trees, but this also doesn’t answer the question. Still, either way, control would have been of the essence.

“Why do eagles stick out their legs when they fly? It looks weird, right?” said Hall. “Well, they have a lot of feathers on those legs, so they’re producing a lot of drag. It leads to the implication that they’re doing it intentionally, for control.”

Source

Velociraptor

Velociraptor last meal hints that it scavenged as well

Velociraptor Velociraptors have been repeatedly described by paleonthologists as voracious predators, however a recent study of a 75 million year old specimen revealed that the dinosaur wasn’t picky at all, and didn’t miss the chance to pass a free meal. The conclusion came after a  pterosaur or “Pterodactyl” bone was found in its gut, suggesting that its prey was actually scavenged.

The international team of researchers discovered the velociraptor in the Gobi desert of Mongolia. Despite its extremely small size, comparable to that of a modern day turkey, the small dinosaur possessed razor sharp, sickle-shaped  talons on the second toe of each foot, which it used to slash its prey and hold it in place, trapped. Coupled with the fact that they hunted in packs, as most paleontologists believe, made them pretty fearsome. However, when presented the opportunity, the velociraptor didn’t shy away from dinning on carcasses.

“It would be difficult and probably even dangerous for the small theropod dinosaur to target a pterosaur with a wingspan of 2 metres or more, unless the pterosaur was already ill or injured,” said co-author of the study Dr David Hone, from the University College Dublin, Ireland.

“So the pterosaur bone we’ve identified in the gut of the Velociraptor was most likely scavenged from a carcass rather than the result of a predatory kill.”

The pterosaur’s bone in question is nearly 3 inches long and was lodged in the velociraptors ribcage, near where the stomach would have been located. Since the bone is very well preserved, the researchers involved in the study believe that it may had well been it last supper.

“The surface of the bone is smooth and in good condition, with no unusual traces of marks or deformation that could be attributed to digestive acids. So it’s likely that the Velociraptor itself died not long after ingesting the bone,” said Dr Hone in a statement.

Besides the lodged pterodactyl bone found in its gut, the scientists also note that they found evidence of a broken rib with signs of regrowth in the specimen, suggesting that the velociraptor was actually either injured or recovering when it died.

The findings were published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology.

Story and image via BBC Nature