Everybody knows Velociraptor. Jurassic Park and the movie’s multiple sequels have made the sickle-clawed carnivores famous (even if we know that the real dinosaurs were smaller and covered in feathers rather than scales).

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But these killer celebrity saurians was hardly the only ones of their kind. Palaeontologists have uncovered a slew of related dinosaurs (known to specialists as dromaeosaurids), with the latest turning up in 73-million-year-old rock in Canada.

The fuzzy predator has been named Boreonykus certekorum by palaeontologists Phil Bell and Philip Currie. The incomplete skeleton was reconstructed from various pieces of the skull, claws, vertebrae and teeth, which were found strewn through the massive Pipestone Creek bonebed near Grande Prairie in Alberta.

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Boreonykus certekorum may have been a small raptor, but it still brandished that trademark sickle-like foot claw. Image: Bell, P. R., and P. J. Currie. 2015

“The bones we have show it would have had big hand and foot claws, a real killing claw. The claws would have been used to hunt down prey. We have a handful of teeth that are like serrated steak knives. These would have been pretty savage predators,” says Bell.

The Pipestone Creek bonebed has yielded thousands of fossil finds, most of them belonging to a large horned dinosaur called PachyrhinosaurusIt's thought that a huge herd of these animals died in a flash flood at this site millions of years ago, leaving a graveyard of jumbled remains. 

"[T]he bones of Boreonykus appeared either before or during the same episode that killed the Pachyrhinosaurus ... [But the teeth arrived later], so what we think happened was that packs of Boreonykus converged on the huge stinking mounds of rotting carcasses of Pachyrhinosaurus to dine," Bell tells the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

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A group of Boreonykus pictured scavenging the remains of a Pachyrhinosaurus. Image: Dinostar, via Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

But what makes Boreonykus a particularly exciting find is who the feathery meat-eater was related to. In their analysis of where Boreonykus fits into the wider family tree, Bell and Currie found that the little dinosaur was most closely related to the dinosaurs Tsaagan, Acheroraptor and Velociraptor a group of dromaeosaurs most commonly found in Asia and relatively rare in North America.

This not only strengthens the evolutionary connections between the dinosaurs of the two continents, the researchers write, but it also helps highlight the “turnover” of dinosaurs that used to live in western North America, with environmental shifts ushering in new species as old ones faded away.

As frightening as such a toothy, sharp-clawed dinosaur might initially look, this predator wasn’t as imposing as all of its weaponry suggests. Boreonykus would have been a pipsqueak compared to its cousins on the silver screen, Bell and Currie found.

In fact, the entire dinosaur would have been about the size of a dog. The only creatures to fear Boreonykus would have been lizards, mammals and the smaller dinosaurs of its time. At best, Boreonykus was only a terror to the tiny.


The findings were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Top header image: Jean-François Chénier, Flickr