Dromaeosaurids were first
described in the 1920s, but received relatively little attention from
palaeontologists until the late 1960s. However in recent years it has been
realized that the group were the closest non-avian relatives of the Birds, and
they have become one of the best studied of all Dinosaur groups. The majority
of Dromaeosaurids were small animals with wing-like forelimbs and feathers,
interpreted as having lived much of their lives in the treetops, with some
species thought to have been capable of true flight and others of gliding.
However other members of the group retain feathered wings despite being clearly
quite incapable of flying due to their size and shape, leading to speculation
that the ‘wings’ may have had some other purpose, quite unrelated to flight.
Among these clearly non-flying
Dromaeosaurids are four previously described ‘giant’ species, all from the Late
Cretaceous, Deinonychus antirrhopus
and Utahraptor ostrommaysi from North
America, Achillobator giganticus from
Asia and Austroraptor cabazai from
South America. Rather than forming a distinct group these giant Dromaeosaurids
appear to have arisen at least three times from more average-sized members of
the group, suggesting that some factor favoured the evolution of larger
Dromaeosaurids towards the end of the Cretaceous.
The new species is named Dakotaraptor steini, where ‘Dakotaraptor’ refers to the state where
the species was discovered and the Dakota people that gave it its name
(‘raptor’ means ‘plunderer’ in Latin and is a common suffix for Dromaeosaurids,
as well as being used as a collective name for modern Birds of Prey), and ‘steini’ honours palaeontologist Walter Stein.
The species is described from an adult specimen comprising the right pedal
unguals II & III, the right femur, the left and right tibiae, the left
astragalus and calcaneum, the left metatarsals II-IV, the right metatarsal IV,
one fragmentary dorsal centrum, 10 caudal vertebrae, the furcula, the left and
right humeri, the left and right radii, the left and right ulnae, the right
metacarpals I and II and three fragmentary left manual phalanges, plus an
isolated left tibia, a left astragalus and calcaneum, two furcula and several
Quary map indicating the spatial relationship of the bones of the first
Dakotaraptor specimen as they were
found in the field. DePalma et al.
The ulna of Dakotaraptor shows a row of 10 oblong protuberances, interpreted as
being quill knobs, or ulnar papilli; attachment points for flight feathers.
These have been detected before in Theropod Dinosaurs, particularly Dromaeosaurids,
as well as being known in modern and Mesozoic Birds. Importantly, in modern
Birds, these structures only develop in species that place exceptional stresses
on the wing feathers during flight. Since the size and shape of Dakotaraptor makes it highly unlikely
that it was capable of any form of flight, it seems likely that it was placing
stress on its wing feathers engaging in some other form of activity. This has
been seen previously in other Dromaeosaurids deemed unlikely fliers (for
example Velociraptor) and has led to
a number of suggestions as to possible uses for wing feathers in
Dromaeosaurids, such as brooding eggs and young or subduing prey. DePalma et al. feel that the brooding young
explanation cannot explain the deep ulnar papilli seen in Dakotaraptor and other Dromaeosaurids, and therefore reject this
hypothesis, but do feel they lend to support to the idea that strong feathers
may have aided prey suppression in these animals.
wing and plumage, with Avian and Theropod comparisons. (A) Enlarged view of the
quill knobs on the Dakotaraptor ulna,
compared with quill knobs in Velociraptor
(B) and Concavenator (C); (D) conservative
reconstruction of the wing plumage for Dakotaraptor
based on quill knob placement and comparison with other Dromaeosaurid and Bird wings;
(E) quill knobs on a modern Masked Booby (Sula
dactylatra) ulna, and (F), X-ray of a modern Barred Owl (Strix varia) wing showing attachment of
the remiges on the quill knobs. The flattened dorsal surface of Dakotaraptor’s metacarpal II would have
provided a stable shelf for the primary remiges that laid across it, a possible
driving force for evolving the flat surface. Photograph (F) provided by Smalley’s Animal Hospital. DePalma et al.
Dakotaraptor is interpreted as being exceptionally large for a
Dromaeosaurid, or indeed any form of Maniraptoran (the group of Theropod
Dinosaurs that includes Dromaeosaurids and Birds, as well as other group such
as Troodontids), reaching about 5.5 m in length and exceeding in size all other known Dromaeosaurids accept Utahraptor, which was similar in size
and to which it is interpreted as being closely related. However while Utahraptor is interpreted as being a
slow moving animal with a distinct morphology, Dakotaraptor appears to be essentially a scaled up version of the
smaller Dromaeosaurids, and like them is thought likely to have been a highly
active predator (though unlike them it is not thought to have been capable of
any form of flight, as in larger flying animals the wing must be scaled up
relative to the rest of the body, while Dakotaraptor
retains its proportions).
Skeletal reconstruction of the most intact Dakotaraptor
specimen based on available material for Utahraptor,
Dromaeosaurus, Deinonychus, and Achillobator,
demonstrating overall proportions and the large size of the creature. Preserved
elements shown in insert. DePalma et al.
As such Dakotaraptor presents a significant expansion of the known Hell
Creek fauna, which previously, as well as a range of herbivorous Dinosaurs,
included small Dromaeosaurid and large Tyranosaurid pedators, but no carnivores
of intermediate size, something that would be expected in a similar modern
fauna. DePalma et al. also note that
the discovered specimens of Dakotaraptor,
which are all interpreted as being adults group into two morphologies, a more
robust form and a more gracile (slender) form. These specimens could represent
variations within a population, but DePalma et
al. feel that it is unlikely that only the more extreme variations would be
preserved with no intermediate specimens, and therefore suggest that the two
morphotypes may represent a sexually dimorphic species (species in which one
sex is notably more robust than the other). They further note that this
interpretation fits with the often-made suggestion that Dromaeosaurids may have
been pack hunters, living permanently in some form of family group.
Interpretation of Dakotaraptor as
a living animal. Emily Willoughby in DePalma et al. (2015).
Dromaeosaurid Dinosaurs are among the closest non-Avian relatives of the Birds and show many similarities to the earliest members of that group, making understanding Dromaeosaurs important for understanding the origin of Birds. In particulary...
Dromaeosaurs were small Therapod Dinosaurs, thought to have been the group most closely related to...
The Dromaeosaurs were a group of small, feathered dinosaurs closely related to the birds. They are commonly referred to as 'raptors' on account of an enlarged claw on each foot which was held clear of...