A wolf-sized warrior, kin to the fierce, feathered Velociraptor, prowled what is now New Mexico about 68 million years ago.
Dineobellator notohesperus was a dromaeosaur, a group of swift, agile predators that is distantly related to the much larger Tyrannosaurus rex. The discovery of this new species suggests that dromaeosaurs were still diversifying, and even becoming better at pursuing prey, right up to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, researchers say March 26 in Scientific Reports.
That age came to an abrupt close at the end of the Cretaceous Period about 66 million years ago, when a mass extinction event wiped out all nonbird dinosaurs. A gap in the global fossil record for dromaeosaurs near the end of the Cretaceous had led some scientists to wonder whether the group was already in decline before the extinction, says Steven Jasinski, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg (SN: 4/21/16). The new find suggests otherwise.
Since 2008, Jasinski and his colleagues have recovered more than 20 fossilized pieces of the new species from the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, a rapidly eroding region of barren badlands in northwestern New Mexico. Analyses of muscle attachment sites on the fossilized forelimbs suggest the dinosaur was unusually strong for a dromaeosaur, with a very tight grip in its hands and feet. That grip, Jasinski says, was likely stronger than that of its famous kinfolk, Velociraptor and Utahraptor, giving the new species extra weaponry in its pursuit of prey.
Like many other dromaeosaurs, D. notohesperus had feathers, evidenced by the presence of quill nobs — bumps indicating where the feathers were attached — on its limbs (SN: 9/19/07). But, like Velociraptor, it probably used the feathers for purposes other than flight, Jasinski says, such as sexual selection, camouflage or added agility while on the hunt.