A new species of carnivorous dinosaur related to velociraptors has been identified from 20 fossils, including bones and bone fragments, found in New Mexico. The discovery supports the theory that there was more species diversity than previously thought during the late Cretaceous period, just before non-avian dinosaurs went extinct.
“I knew we had something distinct early on,” says Steven Jasinski at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. In 2008, Jasinski and his colleagues discovered fragments in the Bisti/De-na-zin Wilderness, New Mexico, that formed part of a claw. It looked like it belonged to a dromaeosaurid – the group of dinosaurs that includes velociraptors.
Yet the claw was unusual. It was larger than average, and the position of scars that indicate where muscle would have been attached to the bone suggested that the dinosaur it belonged to had a much stronger grip than other known dromaeosaurids, says Jasinski.
“We knew there was something there,” he says. “So we collected all the fragments we could and brought them back to the museum, and slowly started attempting to piece things back together.”
Subsequent fossil collecting between 2008 and 2016 from the same 1-square-metre area gave the researchers enough material to complete the picture. The fossils came from a previously unknown species of dromaeosaurid dinosaur, now named Dineobellator notohesperus, which lived during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago.
The dinosaur’s name is derived from the Navajo word Diné – a name used by members of the Navajo Nation, which includes part of New Mexico, to refer to themselves and their culture – followed by the Latin suffix bellator, meaning warrior. Notohesperus comes from Greek words for south and western, in reference to the south-west of the US where the fossils were found.
Dineobellator notohesperus was a predator, and even though its teeth weren’t especially large, its claws could certainly do damage, says Jasinski. Like its velociraptor cousin, it was probably about 1 metre tall and covered in feathers. The structure of its tailbone indicates that this dinosaur had a flexible tail and so was probably more agile than other dromaeosaurids, says Jasinski.
The discovery of a new dinosaur from end of the Cretaceous period, just before the mass extinction event that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs, adds to a body of evidence suggesting there was more species diversity right before the extinction than previously thought, says Emma Dunne at the University of Birmingham, UK.
Susannah Maidment at the Natural History Museum in London says the discovery isn’t surprising, since we already knew that dromaeosaurids were in this location at the time. But identifying new species is important for understanding evolutionary processes, she says.
Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-61480-7
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