What has powerful jaws, razor-sharp teeth, sickle-shaped claws, and can cut you down silently from above? The Sinornithosaurus, — a birdlike raptor — that is, if you were unfortunate enough to run across him 125 million years ago.
If that deadly arsenal wasn’t enough to make this dinosaur a ferocious predator, the newly discovered venom that was delivered with his bite surely was. The New York Times reports that a group of paleontologists have found evidence to suggest that this birdlike raptor was indeed venomous.
Don’t get the Sinornithosaurus confused with his famous cousin, the Velociraptor, made famous in the original Jurassic Park movie — and surely not with his meme-like brother-in-law, the Philosoraptor — because this avian predator can do damage on the ground and in the air.
Enpu Gong of Northeastern University in Liaoning, David A. Burnham of the University of Kansas, and colleagues realized Sinornithosaurus was venomous after examining fossils found in 1999 in the Liaoning Quarry of northeastern China. The fossil remains showed typically unusual features for that of a dinosaur — grooves in the teeth and a duct running along the base of the teeth.
The team of paleontologists interpreted the cavity as evidence of a venom delivery system similar to those found in other living lizards.
“We figured out the teeth and looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, that’s a venomous animal,’ ” Burnham said.
Why would this particular dinosaur have a venom delivery system to go along with his other formidable weapons? Burnham said Sinornithosaurus was not capable of “grab and gulp” attacks as were the larger predators of the day. Instead he more likely used a “grab and hold” type of attack. His long teeth were long and well adapted to penetrating a bird’s feathers. The “grab and hold” attack allowed time for the venom to be delivered and do its work.
The researchers think that other raptors may have also used venom and noted that they will be searching for similar evidence in other fossils.