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Raptor discovery a first

Dennis O'Brien Baltimore Sun

The discovery of a new species of prehistoric raptor in some remote hills in Argentina – the first ever found in the Southern Hemisphere – could rewrite what we know about the ferocious creatures.

The raptor was about 6 feet from head to tail, weighed about 60 pounds, lived 90 million years ago in what is now Patagonia and, like other raptors, used razor-sharp claws to slash at prey.

“They were small and fast carnivorous dinosaurs,” said Diego Pol, a researcher at Ohio State University, where the fossil remains were analyzed.

Although it may have had feathers, like other prehistoric raptors – including the frightening Velociraptor made famous in the movie “Jurassic Park” – this one probably couldn’t fly, the researchers say.

In 1996, researchers at the Argentine Museum of Natural History found fragments of the raptor’s vertebrae, ribs, legs and part of a foot (with a telltale claw) while searching an arid hill in the province of Neuquen where other dinosaur remains have turned up.

But the fossil eventually known as Neuquenraptor argentinus didn’t preserve any DNA, and it took years to map its anatomical and skeletal characteristics. Eventually, scientists determined that it was a previously unknown species, according to Pol and Fernando Novas, the lead author of a recent paper in the journal Nature announcing the discovery.

Neuquenraptor joins about a dozen well-known raptor species. Their numbers have increased steadily since the 1970s because of popular interest in dinosaurs and stepped-up efforts to find more of their remains.

Raptors thrived until they were wiped out with other dinosaurs 65 million years ago by climatic changes that many experts believe were brought on by an asteroid strike.

The discovery is likely to raise new questions about the range of prehistoric raptors because it’s the first verified set of remains found in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The fact that these animals were found there is pretty significant,” said Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who was not a part of the study.

Until this discovery, all the verified raptor remains were found in Europe, Asia and North America.

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