If the screenwriters for the next installment in the "Jurassic Park' film franchise need a bit of inspiration for their next dino-villain, what recently came out of the ground in South Dakota would likely do the trick.
Paleontologists working in the state's famed Hell's Creek Formation have announced the discovery of a new species of giant raptor called the Dakotaraptor. Remember the raptors from the original "Jurassic Park"? This thing would eat those for lunch. Researchers estimate the lethal predator had a head-to-tail length of 17 feet, with a giant sickle claw on each hindfoot measuring nearly 10 inches long.
Dakotaraptor compared to a human and its smaller cousin the Acheroraptor. (Photo: Robert A. DePalma)
"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," Robert DePalma, head of the research team that discovered the fossils, told the UK Guardian. "These claws could grab on to anything and just slice them to bits. It was utterly lethal."
Nightmares aside, what makes Dakotaraptor particular fascinating to paleontologists is its arm bones. Researchers studying the fossils found evidence of "quill knobs," small bumps where feathers were once anchored to bone. Such wings (estimated to have had a span of 3 feet) would have been useless for flight for a creature of this size, but likely had a role in hunting, mating or shielding young.
While Dakotaraptor is the largest dinosaur ever discovered with feathers, it's not the largest raptor to have roamed the earth. That crown belongs to Utahraptor, which lived some 126 million years ago and had a body length of 23 feet long. Clearly, North America was a hotbed of fast, giant chicken-esque monsters for tens of millions of years.
The researchers say Dakotaraptor likely died out, along with three-quarters of all life on Earth, after an estimated 6-mile wide asteroid struck the planet 66 million years ago.