A new carnivorous feathered dinosaur, coyote-sized with razor-sharp teeth and claws, has been discovered in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. The small but formidable predator called Dineobellator would have stalked these open floodplains 70 million years ago.
Steven Jasinski, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study in Scientific Reports, says Dineobellator is a new species from the Late Cretaceous (70-68 million years ago) that belongs to dromaeosaurid, a group of clawed predators closely related to birds. These rare fossils have features that suggest raptors were still trying out new ways to compete even during the dinosaurs’ last stand—the era just before the extinction event that wiped them out 66 million years ago. “This group was still evolving, testing out new evolutionary pathways, right at the very end before we lost them,” Jasinski notes.
The bones from this new specimen bear the scars of a combative lifestyle and suggest some unusual adaptations of tail and claw that might have helped Dineobellatornotohesperus hunt and kill. The name Dineobellator pays homage to the dino’s tenacity and that of the local Native American people. Diné means ‘the Navajo people,’ while bellator is the Latin word for warrior.
“Due to their small size and delicate bones, skeletons of raptors like Dineobellator are extremely rare in North America, particularly in the last 5 million years of the Age of Dinosaurs,” says David Evans, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Even though it is fragmentary, the skeleton of Dineobellator is one of the best specimens known from North America for its time, which makes it scientifically important and exciting.”