Newly Discovered Relative Of The Velociraptor Had A Keen Sense Of Smell

168 Newly Discovered Relative Of The Velociraptor Had A Keen Sense Of Smell
Mary P. Williams/Penn./S. sullivani attacking a subadult Parasaurolophus.

We all know by now that Velociraptor was not the scaly 6-ft beast of the movies, but it would seem that a newly discovered relative might well have been a formidable hunter, albeit not in the way you might assume. According to the researcher who discovered the new species, it likely had a keen sense of smell that would have made the dinosaur “an intimidating predator.” Looks like hiding behind a kitchen counter might not work this time round.

The newly described specimen, a section of the animal's skull, was originally assigned as a different species called Sauornitholestes slangstoni. These were small carnivorous theropod dinosaurs that lived about 75 million years ago, towards the end of the reign of the dinosaurs. But whilst comparing it to other S. slangstoni examples, Steven Jasinski, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, began to notice subtle differences.


These largely related to the region of the brain responsible for smell, called the olfactory bulb. Jasinkski found that this area was surprisingly large in the skull in question, implying that the animal had a particularly good sense of smell. He named the new species Sauornitholestes sullivani, after the paleontologist Robert Sullivan who originally found the specimen in New Mexico in 1999.

Since its original discovery and misidentification, the section of skull had been sitting in the collection of the State Museum of Pennsylvania. This reclassification is reported in this month's New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin.

The new dinosaur is the first of its type to have been found in southern North America, and goes to show that there were distinct species living in the different regions. It was not a large animal, reaching just under a meter (3 ft) in height, and was probably feathered like other members of its family such as Velociraptor. It too had the characteristic sickle shaped claw on its feet, and they probably hunted in packs.

This would have been useful for such a small carnivore living in an environment filled with other giants of the Cretaceous, such as the duck-billed hadrosaur Parasaurolophus, and horned dinosaurs such as Pentaceratops.


Despite its small size, its acute sense of smell, small agile size and possible social antics likely meant it was a highly effective hunter. “Although it was not large, this was not a dinosaur you would want to mess with," Jasinski said.


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