‘Ferrari of competitors': 66mln-yo giant raptor unearthed in S. Dakota

Dakotaraptor. © Wikipedia
Archaeologists claim to have found the remains of one of the world's biggest raptors, which hunted for prey, armed with large claws and wings, some 66 million years ago. They’ve named the beast, discovered in South Dakota's Hell Creek Formation, Dakotaraptor steini.

“It could run very fast, it could jump incredibly well, it was agile and it had essentially grappling hooks on the front and rear limbs. These claws could grab on to anything and just slice them to bits. It was utterly lethal,” Robert DePalma, head of the research team that discovered the fossils and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History, told The Guardian.

The new dinosaur was discovered in 2005. “It really was the Ferrari of competitors,” DePalma noted.

Dakotaraptor is estimated to have been around 16 feet (4.9 meters) in length, making it one of the most dangerous raptors known, according to D-Brief, a Discover Magazine blog. It was still reportedly smaller than the 22-foot-long (6.7 meters) Utahraptor. The Dakotaraptor is the largest dinosaur found with true wings, D-Brief said.

According to a study, published by the University of Kansas Paleontological Institute, the dinosaur also had "quill knobs" or papilli, on its arm bone, which "is our first clear evidence for feather quills on a large dromaeosaurid forearm and impacts evolutionary reconstructions and functional morphology of such derived, typically flight-related feature," the researchers wrote in the study.

Although the Dakotaraptor had feathers and wings, it couldn’t fly, probably because of its giant size. Its wings, the study suggested, could have played a role in hunting strategy, mating display and aggressive territorial behavior.

Meanwhile “the most scary thing” about Dakotaraptors, a study co-author David Burnham told the Guardian, was their sickle claw. It measured about 9.5 inches (24 centimeters) along the outer curve and is “bigger than anything” Burnham has seen in this category of dinosaur.

“It’s very laterally compressed so that means it was probably made for piercing flesh,” the paleontologist said. “It’s not a big, fat claw like on a T-Rex or something. It’s not just going to stomp you to death or bone-crush you to death. No, these things would slice and dice.”

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While the research on the new dinosaur is still ongoing, the next challenge is to find the still-missing skull.

“We found some loose teeth but we never found the skull,” Burnham told the newspaper. “It’s kind of the lottery prize for paleontologists if you get the head of the animal.”