Geologist Matyas Vremir (of the Transylvanian Museum Society) has unearthed the remains of a new species of predatory dinosaurs, the Balaur bondoc, in Romania.
The Balaur bondoc, literally translated as the stocky dragon, is said to be a cousin of the better-known Velociraptor. However, while Velociraptor chose to sprint, Balaur specialized in kick-boxing. The giant sickle-like claws of the Balaur bondoc are the most striking feature on the predator’s skeleton.
Partial remains of the Balaur bondoc’s skeleton, a theropod fossil, were found last year. The skeleton included bones from the carnivore’s leg, hip, back, arm, hand, rib and tail. Scientists have been struggling to make sense of fragmentary remains of the dinosaur for more than 10 years. Until Vremir’s discovery, the morphology remained a mystery.
Scientists have now been able to piece together what looks like one of the deadliest and the largest meat-eating dinosaurs that lived in Europe near the end of the Cretaceous Period (between 72 million and 65 million years ago).
The 6- to- 7-foot-long Balaur Bondoc differs from its nearest relatives by about 20 features. While most of its relatives had a large claw on their second toe, Balaur had an extra claw on its big toe too. The second large, sickle-like claw could be hyper-extended and was probably used to slash and disembowel prey.
The enormous muscle attachment areas on the carnivore’s hips along with shorter and stockier legs and feet indicate that the Balaur Bondoc was built for strength, rather than speed.
Remains of the Balaur Bondoc’s hands show atrophy, with some of the hand bones fused together resulting in only two functional fingers (as opposed to three fingers on other dromaeosaurs. Since this would make grasping difficult for the animal, scientists guess that Balaur used its hind limbs to grasp and kill its prey.
Romania, where the Balaur Bondoc’s fossil has been found, was part of an island archipelago as much of present-day continental Europe was flooded during the Age of Dinosaurs. So far, the discoveries on the island have been restricted to dinosaurs smaller and more primitive than those found on larger land masses – tiny duck-billed dinosaurs and dwarf sauropods, to name a few).
The Balaur bondoc is the first such large carnivore to be found in the Romanian ecosystem. While Balaur’s unique features are to be expected from the “island effect”, its similarities to the Velociraptor and other dromaeosaurs indicate some faunal exchange between the carnivorous dinosaurs of the island that the mainland.
The scientists report being thrilled by the discovery of the unusual Balaur bondoc and have explained their findings online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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