Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Giant Dinosaur Fossil Forces Scientists to Question Theories This Week's Showing of a Raptor with 13-Inch Claw May Change Views of Evolution

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Giant Dinosaur Fossil Forces Scientists to Question Theories This Week's Showing of a Raptor with 13-Inch Claw May Change Views of Evolution

Article excerpt

The barren hills of northwestern Patagonia in Argentina have yielded fossil remains of the largest raptor-like dinosaur ever discovered.

Nearly four times longer and eight times heavier than the voracious velociraptors of "Jurassic Park," the 90-million-year-old creature is challenging notions of how raptors may have behaved and how widely they were distributed. It also represents the latest in a string of South American fossil finds that are yielding clues to issues ranging from the evolution of birds to the splitting of continents.

The discovery was announced Dec. 2 at Houston's Museum of Natural History, where Argentine paleontologist Fernando Novas unveiled a cast of the raptor's 13-inch toe claw. So far, the claw, a leg bone, and two arm bones have been unearthed. Dr. Novas named the creature Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, loosely translated as "large thief with lance feet." The moniker "thief" may be a bit tame. Megaraptor, Novas says, is a very distant relative of a group of meat-eating predators, including Tyrannosaurus rex. Most raptors typically stood about as high as a human, says Peter Dodson, a professor of veterinary anatomy and geology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. From tail to nose, they averaged 8 to 9 feet long and tipped the scales at between 150 and 185 pounds, while at least one species, Utahraptor, reached lengths of 16 feet. Megaraptor, by contrast, is 25 to 30 feet long and probably stood 13 feet tall. "We've tended to view raptors as small, swift, vicious, and cunning hunters rather than brutal and strong," Dr. Dodson says, "Now, our confidence in that picture is being shattered a bit." Megaraptor's home turf also comes as a surprise. "This is the first record from South America of this group of dinosaurs," says Hans-Dieter Sues, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. …

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