Linheraptor exquisitus – New Species of Late Cretaceous “Raptor”

A team of English and American scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of Dromaeosaur, the same type of dinosaur as the famous Velociraptor.  Although, in dinosaur terms, this new species which resembles its famous “Jurassic Park” cousin Velociraptor, is relatively small, perhaps weighing no more than a six-year old child, the immaculate preservation will provide scientists with new insight into this type of Theropod dinosaur.

Whilst working on other Cretaceous fossils, as part of a field expedition to the Wulansuhai Formation (Inner Mongolia), young University of London student Michael Pittman and a colleague discovered a toe bone eroding out of a sandstone cliff.  The researchers decided to extract the block of stone in which the toe bone had been preserved, the block was removed and covered in burlap and plaster to protect it.  It was only when back in the University preparation lab many months later that the plaster jacket was removed and careful preparation revealed the true extent of their amazing find.  To the team’s sheer delight they discovered that the toe was part of an almost complete skeleton of a 2 metre long, new species of Dromaeosaurid, one of only five Dromaeosaurs known from this strata and the first nearly complete skeleton to be discovered since 1972.

Linheraptor exquisitus – Cast of the Holotype

Picture Credit: Zootaxa Journal

The fossilised skeleton is almost complete, just missing a few of the smaller bones such as elements of the caudal (tail vertebrae).  Importantly, the skull is very well preserved and this has helped the researchers assign this as a new type of Dromaeosaurid dinosaur.

Like its famous cousin, Linheraptor had a large curved claw on the second toe of each foot which may have been used to dispatch prey.

Recalling the day that he (Mike Pittman) and American colleague Jonah Choiniere  first spotted the toe bone eroding out of the cliff, Mr Pittman stated:

“We were out there looking for fossils but this was like hitting the jackpot.  Jonah saw a claw protruding from the cliff face.  I’m surprised nobody in London heard us shouting we were that excited.”

The University of London student, went onto add:

“I’ve always wanted to discover a dinosaur since I was a kid, and I’ve never given up on the idea.  It was amazing that my first discovery was from a Velociraptor relative.”

The exceptional preservation of the specimen has been recognised in the scientific binomial name, it is likely that this particular animal was buried very quickly, perhaps as the result of sudden sandstorm.  Although, this new, little dinosaur has been compared to Velociraptor and it does date from similarly aged rock strata it is not that closely related to the Velociraptor genus.

Professor Xu Xing, from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, China, a leading author on Chinese/Mongolian dinosaurs commented:

 “This is a really beautiful fossil and it documents a transitional stage in Dromaeosaurid evolution.”

The paper on this new species of Cretaceous dinosaur has been published in the scientific journal Zootaxa.

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