‘Whats New(s)’ is our new (poorly titled) news and views-esque section, where we keep you up-to-date on the latest findings in palaeontology, as well as explaining some key ideas behind them. For TDS first ever What’s New(s) we’ve got the exciting discovery of Acheroraptor! It also represents the first post on TDS with actual content (and dinosaurs). Huzzah!
New dinosaur fossils are being found all year round. No big deal, right? Wrong. Quite a lot of these new fossils fall under 3 very interesting categories:
- Crazy looking (a technical term).
- Exceptional preservation (and a shameless Bristol Palaeo plug).
- Macroevolutionary importance.
Acheroraptor falls into number 3. Not only does it have one of the best names ever, Acheroraptor temertyorum (literally meaning ‘Underworld thief’), but it’s one of the first major fossils (previously all we had was just isolated teeth) of dromaeosaurs (velociraptors and their close relatives) from North America in the Late Cretaceous. I say ‘major fossils’ but it’s still only 2 bones in the skull, a full maxilla and an almost complete dentary. Oh, and some non-isolated teeth. Nonetheless, the little blighter is (apparently, according to a wonderful reconstruction by Danielle Dufault) a cutie!
So why is it important? Palaeontologists reconstruct evolutionary relationships by looking at how morphological features vary between different species. So, the more complete the fossil record is for a species, the more features you can compare, and the more confidence you can have when inferring the evolutionary relationship. So, going from a few isolated teeth, to a couple of (relatively) whopping great big skull bones is a fantastic leap! So, Acheroraptor has (despite being ‘American‘) been found to be more closely related to Asian dromaeosaurs, such as Velociraptor mongoliensis. This means that there was more faunal interchange between ‘America’ and ‘Asia’ back in the Late Cretaceous.
Evans, D. C., Larson, D. W. and Currie, P. J. (2013) A new dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) with Asian affinities from the latest Cretaceous of North America, Naturwissenschaften, 100(11), 1041-1049