Argentine paleontologists have discovered what they believe is a new species of a 90 million-year-old dinosaur that had raptor-like legs and wings. The discovery of the fossilized remains offers better clues and information on how birds evolved and emerged over time.
The discovery of the winged, carnivorous dino was made at the Ezequiel Ramos Mexía reservoir, in the province of Río Negro in Argentina. Paleontologists say that the creature was a small and agile animal that did not exceed a meter and a half in length. Although it could not fly (A Dino Chicken?), this dinosaur could perform movements similar to those achieved by modern birds during flight and would have used its wings to balance itself when it ran, or for example, when it wanted to attack its prey.
Matias Motta from the Laboratory of Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Vertebrates of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences (LACEV-MACN-CONICET) explained in an interview with the CTyS-UNLaM Agency that “this new species, which we call Overoraptor chimentoi, is a new member of the group of carnivorous dinosaurs called paravians.”
Based on excavations and the analysis of the fossilized remains, researchers say that the dinosaur had a very sharp claw which served to attack its prey, and had an elongated and elegant paw, which indicates that the Dinosaur was a running animal.”
The study describing the newly-identified dinosaur was published in The Science of Nature.
Dr. Federico Agnolin, a researcher at MACN-CONICET and the Azara Foundation, stressed that what surprised them most was that “their legs were like those of a raptor, but their upper limbs were extremely long and robust, similar to those of the modern birds.”
The discovery can be traced back to 2013 when paleontologists came across a small claw and the fossilized remains of a mysterious animal.
In 2018, thanks to funding from the National Geographic Society and Mr. Coleman Burke, the researchers were able to carry out a new campaign in which they were able to rescue more elements of this specimen.
In the second campaign, scientists were able to find more bone elements, including part of the wing of this animal.
“We did not know what to call it at this time, but we discovered the ulna, the metacarpus, several vertebrae in the tail, a complete paw, part of the hip, all bones that give us very new anatomical information,” explained paleontologist Federico Brissón Egli of the MACN – CONICET.
The fossilized remnants of the creature gave experts new data on how birds evolved from this group of dinosaurs. Dr. Fernando Novas, head of the LACEV-MACN, explained that “birds are nothing more than feathered dinosaurs that live today, they share planet Earth with us and they originated from dinosaurs with that may have looked like velociraptors.”
It is noteworthy to mention that previous excavations have revealed dinosaurs that denote a clear transition from dinosaurs to birds.
Similar smaller dinosaurs were previously discovered such as the Buitreraptor, a creature which was found in another deposit in Río Negro; other species of an intermediate size such as Unenlagia, with a body mass similar to that of a head, were also found; and much larger and more dangerous forms like the Austroraptor, which was approximately five meters long, were also discovered.
All of these dinosaurs offer new clues about the kind of dinosaurs that existed on Earth millions of years ago, and how these creatures gave rise to some of the animals we share the planet with today.
According to experts, until the discovery of this new species, all carnivorous dinosaurs that were known from Patagonia with the appearance of birds belonged to the group of Unenlagia, which were agile and walked on their hind legs. These species had a small, pointed, curved claw on the index toe, which was helpful for trapping their prey.
“Contrary to what we initially assumed, the Overoraptor is not a member of the Unenlagia, but of another group that includes a species from Madagascar called Rahonavis,” explained Novas.
“Now, we know that the southern continents were inhabited by various Paravians, including the Unenlagia and the overoraptors; something that speaks of a great diversity of dinosaurs that we are only beginning to understand know,” Navas added.
With the discovery of the Overaptor chimentoi —whose name alludes to the overo-colored pattern, with dark spots, with which its fossils were preserved, and refers to the paleontologist Nicolás Chimento who made the initial discovery in 2013—, the Argentine Patagonia provides a new representative of dinosaurs that were very closely related to birds.
When the scientists studied this Overoraptor in detail, they realized that this dinosaur was actually able to flap its wings, that is, researchers had found a previously unknown step in the transition between raptor dinosaurs and birds.
“We were right in the middle. This dinosaur turned out to belong to a new group of dinosaurs from the Southern Hemisphere; surely it was fast, agile, and, like all his relatives, it was a carnivore. Although we do not know too much about this animal, we hope to return to this site in the northwest of Río Negro to find more remains of this species and thus clarify more aspects of the life of these small dinosaurs,” said Motta.
“An important aspect of this research is the relationship of the Overoraptor with a species from Madagascar,” said Federico Brissón Egli.
“South America and Africa share a rich and long geological history; surely, remains of species related to the Overoraptor and Rahonavis will begin to emerge in other Gondwanic localities.”