GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – A new species of dinosaur about the size of a dog and possessing a lethal claw has been discovered in northwestern Alberta by an Australian paleontologist.
The remains of the Boreonykus was discovered at the Pipestone Creek bonebed — a huge gravesite of the plant-eating dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus that dates back 73 million years. The site is about 20 kilometres southwest of Grande Prairie.
The Boreonykus bones were found among thousands of bones from another dinosaur.
Phil Bell, who works out of the School of Environmental and Rural Science at the University of New England, says the Boreonykus was a relative of Velociraptor, which was made famous in the “Jurassic Park” films.
It would have only been about two metres long and as tall as a dog, he said, but it had large claws.
“The bones we have show it would have had big hand and foot claws, a real killing claw,” Bell wrote in an email.
“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.”
An article published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology says the discovery records a period when much of the western interior of Canada and the United States was covered by the Bearpaw Sea.
Bell said the find is significant because it fills an important gap in how raptors moved and adapted to the environment.
“Its closest ancestors were from Mongolia, so this species probably crossed the land bridge from northern Asia to North America,” he said.
“The first bones were discovered in 1988 and laid unstudied in a museum in Alberta for 25 years. We then started to turn up a few more bones from the very same spot in 2012, so that reinvigorated interest.”
The most important bone was from the skull. That helped clinch what type of animal it was.
“Although we don’t have the whole skeleton, we know, based on parts of the skeleton, that it belonged to this type of dinosaur. The raptors’ skin was probably feathered to keep them warm in the cold dark winters in north Canada.”