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A Megaraptor Emerges From Footprint Fossils

Thanks to their reign of terror in “Jurassic Park,” Velociraptors are infamous prehistoric predators.

The sickle-clawed killing machines familiar to moviegoers, though, are far removed from their scientific counterparts — and not just because the fictional ones lack feathers. In real life, Velociraptors topped out at the size of a Labrador retriever and were much smaller than the human-size hunters portrayed in the film series.

Still, some raptors did achieve imposing sizes. And a team of paleontologists said it might have identified a new megaraptor based on a set of fossilized footprints found in China. In a paper published this week in the journal iScience, the researchers estimated that the tracks had been left by a dinosaur that would be among the largest raptors known to science.

The raptor’s footprints are part of a larger dinosaur trackway discovered in southeastern China in 2020. During the Late Cretaceous period, about 90 million years ago, the area was a muddy river plain home to all manner of dinosaurs, including long-necked sauropods and duck-billed herbivores. As these dino denizens stomped about, they left muddy footprints — some of which have been preserved for tens of millions of years.

Around 240 dinosaur tracks have been discovered in Longxiang, at the track site, which is roughly the size of a hockey rink. A few of the footprints are oddly shaped, with preserved imprints featuring only two toes.

“When you see dinosaur footprints with only two toes, you can play the Cinderella slipper game and look for feet that match them,” said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the new study. “The only dinosaurs that walked on two toes were ‘raptors’ like velociraptor and their close relatives.”

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