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Paleontologists Identify Feathered Dinosaur Unearthed In New Mexico

Sergey Krasovskiy
A new feathered dinosaur that lived in what is now New Mexico 67 million years ago is one of the last known surviving raptor species.

Imagine something like a velociraptor, but faster and stronger, and with feathers.

Paleontologists at the State Museum of Pennsylvania are calling their new dinosaur find Dineobellator notohesperus, and they found it in northwest New Mexico. 

Paleontologist Steven Jasinski leads the museum’s section of paleontology and geology and was part of the group that made the discovery. He said its bones suggest it had more and potentially stronger muscles in its forearms to grab onto and grip big prey. He said it was only 3 feet tall at the shoulders, but could be 6 to 7 feet long and possibly hunted in packs. 

He also said its tail could whip around a bit, unlike the very rigid tales of its cousins. 

“What that means is that the tail, while staying straight, could move very easily at its base and allow the animal to be counterbalanced and change direction quickly,” he said.

That adaptation is something that helps modern-day animals like cheetahs.

Jasinski said Dineobellator notohesperus was likely a very efficient killing machine, right up to the time of a great extinction event millions of years ago. And it’s an important discovery.

“This suggests that the entire group was doing rather well—rather than just surviving, they were diversifying up to the mass extinction event that killed off all non-avian dinosaurs,” he said.

This finding, and others like it, Jasinski said, help demonstrate what the area was like before and after the extinction. He said that’s important as humans are causing the extinction of many animals now, and we need to understand just what that means.

“When you remove gigantic predators like the Tyrannosaurus and Dineobellator from an ecosystem, what is the effect that’s going to happen? And what does that potentially mean for us?” he asked. “So as we then remove gigantic predators like tigers and polar bears from ecosystems today...the big question is, what are those changes going to bring?”

Jasinski said that this is only one of several new discoveries in northwest New Mexico, about which his museum will continue publishing information.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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