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The dinosaur “Death Shadow” – the largest predatory raptor – discovered in Argentina | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel

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The Maip megaraptor standing next to an average human

(Scientific reports, Rolando et al)

Many of us grew up with a complicated mix of awe and fear of the extraordinary titans of the Jurassic Parks film series. I mean, an island full of hungry, prowling reptiles, gnashing their teeth and hungry for humans? Sounds like the best kind of cardio to me!

While the grandeur of these creatures was confined to silver screens for many of us, that is not the case for thousands of paleontologists. They work on these gigantic ancient remains to uncover the mysteries of life before civilization. Every once in a while, a species is discovered that causes a stir far beyond the niche communities of paleontologists.

One of these eddies announced recently by Argentine paleontologists is the “Maip Macrothorax”. But you can call it by its more popular (and appropriate) name – the shadow of death dinosaur.

The Shadow of Death Dinosaur

The Maip Macrothroax is a 70 million year old apex predator that weighed up to six tons and was about nine to ten meters long. These incredible dimensions make this fearsome mega-raptor larger than any other during the Cretaceous period that spanned 145 to 66 million years ago.

The Maip Macrothorax is named after Maip – an “evil” mythological figure of the indigenous Aonikenk people of Patagonia. The “macrothorax” refers to the enormous expanse of the creature’s chest cavity, which was about 1.2 meters (3.9 ft) wide.

Quote from Aranciaga

The fearsome creature likely fed on smaller dinosaurs which it tore to shreds with its razor-sharp 16-inch talons, says paleontologist Mauro Aranciaga, a doctoral student at Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and the one of the co-authors of the study.

The amazing animal had two sharp, curved claws per foreleg – a common trait of many raptors – which helped them grip their prey. Despite its imposing stature, the Maip also featured a complex system of muscles, bones, and ligaments that helped it stand upright on its hind legs and remain agile while walking or running.

The Maip is currently the southernmost mega-raptor ever discovered, as well as one of the last mega-raptors to inhabit Earth before the extinction of the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago.

Discovery

“We defeated the epidemic with Maip,” said Fernando Novas, leader of the team that collected Maip’s bones in El Calafate days before the global pandemic broke out in mid-March 2020.

Although the mandatory lockdown caused hiccups in discovery, it did not dampen researchers’ morale. They took fossil samples home to clean and study, saying the features of this dinosaur were very novel.

“Although the pandemic prevented us from returning to our workplace, we managed to continue the study of Maip’s morphological traits,” Novas proudly recounts.

Researchers unearthed Maip from one particular location: Estancia La Anita, just outside El Calafate. The dinosaur roamed in a hot habitat with lush jungle vegetation, a stark contrast to the region now home to huge mountains, glaciers and lakes – a result of the emergence of the Andes mountain range.

“Of all those organisms that lived [in Estancia La Anita] at that time we collected fossil remains, and now, with Maip, we have added a super predator that completes the food pyramid,” explains Aranciaga.

This discovery required months of meticulous excavation, cleaning and classification of a large cache of bones: vertebrae as well as pieces of rib, hip, tail and arm.

The Mysterious Megaraptors

Megaraptors were a group of flesh-eating giants that roamed the expanses of what would be considered present-day South America. Although the name seems reminiscent of the ever-famous velociraptors and Utah raptors that Jurassic Park popularized, it should be noted that true raptors do not form a single taxonomic group like canids (dogs). Instead, they’re grouped by common characteristics the creatures shared, such as being feathered and possessing a long, stiff tail.

Some recent studies have even proposed that Megaraptors and their relatives may actually be tyrannosauroids – a superfamily of dinosaurs that includes the spectacular Tyrannosaurus Rex.

However, Maip’s bones were different from those of a tyrannosaur. The Maips were light animals with hollow bones, which made them relatively agile. This discovery has provided valuable insight into the anatomy of megaraptors, says Aranciaga.

Although Maip has helped researchers solve several questions, such as their behavior with other carnivorous dinosaurs, there is still a lot to answer. “We still do not know several parts of the skeleton of this animal, such as the skull and the arms; that’s why we plan to return to look for more fossils,” says Novas.

Adding to the enigma that megaraptors have posed, Aranciaga explains that aspects of their hunting behavior have yet to be elucidated; for example, what would have been their favorite prey, among other things.

Paleontologists are thus organizing a new expedition to collect additional data on these ancient inhabitants of southern Patagonia, which they plan to complete in early 2023.

The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports and can be viewed here.

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