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"Megaraptor" dinosaur named Fujianipus yingliangi discovered in China

An international research team has unearthed fossil footprints in China that reveal a completely new “megaraptor” species. Named Fujianipus yingliangi, their discovery challenges previous conceptions of raptor size.

The footprints are significantly larger than the familiar pop-culture representations popularized by films like the Jurassic Park franchise. This important find dramatically expands our understanding of these fascinating and diverse theropod dinosaurs.

Raptors in the paleontological context

When we hear the word “raptor,” our minds often conjure images of the ferocious, human-sized hunters from movies like Jurassic Park.

These cinematic portrayals primarily depict dromaeosaurs, a specific subgroup of raptors. Famous examples include Velociraptor and Deinonychus.

However, the term “raptor” actually refers to a much wider family of bird-like dinosaurs within the theropod group. The defining characteristic of raptors is a large, sickle-shaped claw on their second toe, used for slashing and pinning prey.

Dromaeosaurids, like the familiar Velociraptor, were generally on the smaller side, known for their speed, agility, and pack-hunting behaviors.

Their skeletons show adaptations for quick movements and powerful leaps, supporting the image of fierce, active predators.

The new Chinese discovery of Fujianipus yingliangi adds a fascinating twist to our understanding of raptor diversity. Some raptors, specifically within the troodontid family, could reach far greater sizes than previously assumed, achieving “megaraptor” status.

The fossil footprints found highlight the remarkable variation in size and form that existed within this remarkable group of dinosaurs.

Fujianipus yingliangi footprints and megaraptor size

The recently excavated fossil footprints in Fujian Province, China, belong to a troodontid raptor – a subfamily known for their proportionally large brains relative to body size. 

“This raptor was around 5-meters-long with 1.8 meter-long legs, far exceeding the size of the raptors depicted in Jurassic Park. Imagine something like that coming at you at full speed!” explained Dr. Anthony Romilio, a paleontologist from The University of Queensland’s Dinosaur Lab who participated in the study.

The analysis, led by Associate Professor Lida Xing, revealed a set of footprints distinct from those of other known theropod species. This indicates an unexpectedly large troodontid inhabited this region during the late Jurassic or early Cretaceous period.

Raptor size paradigm changed by Fujianipus yingliangi

“The concept of large Troodontids has only recently emerged in the paleontological community,” noted Dr. Romilio. Before this Chinese discovery, our hints of giant raptors came primarily from fossilized remains unearthed in Alaska.

These finds hinted at a trend known as “gigantism” – a phenomenon where species grow significantly larger than their close relatives.

This tendency towards gigantism is often observed in animals inhabiting colder environments, where larger bodies offer advantages in conserving heat.

For instance, larger animals have a smaller surface area-to-volume ratio, allowing them to retain heat more efficiently.

The frigid, high-latitude environments of Alaska might have provided the perfect conditions for these colossal raptors to evolve.

Abundant food sources, like large herbivores adapted to the cold, could have supported the development of these imposing predators.

Raptor environments influence their size

The new Chinese discovery throws a curious wrinkle into the theory of cold-adapted raptor giants. Fujian Province has a subtropical climate, significantly warmer than the Alaskan environments where previous giant raptor hints originated.

This suggests that the factors influencing raptor size might be more complex than just temperature. Perhaps food availability or competition with other predators also played a role.

The presence of a giant troodontid in southern China indicates that these large raptors may have been more widespread than previously thought.

This discovery opens up exciting new avenues for paleontologists to explore. Unearthing further dinosaur fossils and analyzing their ecological context could help us understand the reasons behind the diversity in raptor size and their distribution across different environments.

Raptors, Fujianipus yingliangi, and future implications

This finding further emphasizes the remarkable diversity of raptors, challenging our preconceptions. “It just goes to show the incredible size range among raptor dinosaurs, highlighting their adaptability and ecological diversity,” Dr. Romilio stated.

From one-centimeter-long footprints discovered in South Korea to this new giant predator, it’s clear that raptors thrived in a vast array of sizes and habitats.

Overall, this Chinese discovery forces us to reconsider previous assumptions about raptor size limitations and offers a new perspective on their potential geographic range.

The ongoing study of raptor fossils continues to paint an ever more complex and fascinating picture of these captivating avian-like dinosaurs.

The study is published in the journal iScience.


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