Balaur bondoc used extendable claws to attack and tear apart prey
Paleontologists have discovered that a close relative of Velociraptor hunted the dwarfed inhabitants of Late Cretaceous Europe, an island landscape largely isolated from nearby continents.
While island animals tend to be smaller and more primitive than their continental cousins, the theropod Balaur bondoc was as large as its relatives on other parts of the globe and demonstrated advanced adaptations including fused bones and two terrifyingly large claws on each hind foot.
A team of Paleontologists from the University of Bucharest and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) present their findings as the cover story of the Aug. 31st issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"While we would expect that there were carnivorous animals in these faunas, finding one as unusual as Balaur is thrilling and is testament to the unusual animals found on islands today and in the past," said paleontologist and co-author Mark Norell of AMNH.
The Balaur bondoc bones (Balaur from an archaic Romanian term for dragon, bondoc meaning stocky) represent the most complete predator skeleton paleontologists have found in sediments from the end of the Mesozoic in Europe.
While few in number, the fossils reveal an animal perhaps six to seven feet long with a stockier build than similarly sized Velociraptors elsewhere on the globe, but numerous similarities to the more familiar predator.
"Although Balaur is so extremely divergent morphologically, it is closely related to animals like Velociraptor and the feathered dinosaurs in China," said lead author Zoltan Csiki, a paleontologist at the University of Bucharest. "The finding indicates that this area of the world, despite its archipelago geography, had at least intermittent faunal connections with the mainland up to the end of the Cretaceous. This connection was not really acknowledged until very recently."
The Balaur research was funded in part by the American Museum of Natural History, the National Science Foundation through grant EAR-0207664 , the Columbia University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Romanian National University Research Council, and Richard and Lynn Jaffe.
For more information about the discovery, read the embargoed AMNH press release at: http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2010-08/amon-spd082510.php