(Talos sampsoni. Credit: Jorge Gonzales/Utah Museum of Natural History)
Feisty, raptor dinosaurs didn't just use their sharp claws for show — a new fossil suggests they may have brandished their butcher's hook-like talons as weapons.
The fossil shows the dinosaur's foot was damaged, and researchers think they know why.
"This raptor dinosaur specimen is special because it shows evidence of having broken the toe on the foot that bears an enlarged talon, an injury we are interpreting as sustained during combat with other members of the species or in hunting prey," Lindsay Zanno, lead author of a study published in PLoS ONE, told Discovery News.
(The foot bones of T. sampsoni, showing the left claw or talon on the second digit. Credit: Lindsay Zanno)
Zanno is an assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, and a research associate at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.
The purpose of this recurved claw has been a mystery. At least one function is now evident: The dinosaurs likely used the talon to kick the you-know-what out of others.
(Skeletal drawing of Talos sampsoni; Credit: Scott Hartman)
The new dinosaur was named in honor of paleontologist Scott Sampson and the mythical Greek figure Talos, a bronze giant who had wings and threw stones. It's unclear if this scrappy new dinosaur threw stones as well, but the researchers do know that it was feathered and bird-like.
Western North America at that time was part of the "lost continent" of Laramidia. It was home to numerous dinosaurs, particularly during the Late Cretaceous, 99.6 to 66.5 million years ago.
Troodontids like T. sampsoni probably were omnivores, eating whatever they could find in sight. Specimens from other species suggest these theropods laid beautifully colored eggs and slept with their heads tucked underneath their "wings," as birds still do today.
T. sampsoni weighed about 84 pounds in the flesh, the scientists suspect. Its skeleton indicates that the new species was much smaller and more slender than its famous cousin Troodon, fossils of which have been found in sediments of the same age in the northern part of Laramidia (Alberta, Canada, and Montana).
"Talos was fleet-footed and lightly built," Zanno says. "This little guy was a scrapper."
The bones of Talos sampsoni will go on exhibit for the first time in the Past Worlds Observatory at the new Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City.