Giant fossil footprints lead to discovery of megaraptor dinosaur in China

Giant fossil footprints lead to discovery of megaraptor dinosaur in China

Fossil foot tracks uncovered in southeastern China have led to the discovery of a megaraptor dinosaur, a giant relative of velociraptors made famous in Jurassic Park.

Raptors were sickle-clawed fast-paced predator dinosaurs closely related to birds.

While some like the velociraptor grew to about the size of a large poodle, there were also giants such as the utahraptor that grew to about 1.5m (5ft) tall and 6m (20ft) wide.

The exact size of the largest raptors has remained elusive, however.

A new study, published in the journal iScience, estimates the size of one giant raptor based on an analysis of a dinosaur trackway discovered in China in 2020. Researchers found around 250 dinosaur tracks at this site in Longxiang, containing several oddly shaped footprints featuring only two toes.

Only raptors left such imprints because they held their inside toes off the ground to prevent their iconic recurved claw from dragging on the ground and getting blunted.

Among such footprints with only two toe imprints, scientists discovered a set of five tracks that were over 13in long – the largest raptor tracks ever discovered in the fossil record.

Based on the size of these tracks, they estimated the new giant raptor dubbed Fujianipus yingliangi stood at about 5ft tall and 15ft long, making it one of the largest of its kind.

“Standing an estimated 1.8 m at the hip, Fujianipus is among the largest known raptors,” they wrote in the study.

Fossil footprints of megaraptor uncovered in China (iScience)
Fossil footprints of megaraptor uncovered in China (iScience)

Researchers suspect the giant raptor evolved during the time large dinosaurs such as those belonging to the Tyrannosaurus group roamed Asia.

“In the mid-Cretaceous of Asia, the evolution of F yingliangi overlapped with that of early large-bodied tyrannosauroids,” they said.

The fossil site also shed light on the ecology of the region millions of years ago.

The area was likely a muddy river plain about 90 million years ago and home to many ancient reptiles, including the giant long-necked sauropods and herbivorous dinosaurs.