Meat-eating 'dragon' terrorised Romania 80 million years ago

Monday, August 30, 2010

A dragon-like dinosaur with vast claws terrorised Europe 80 million years ago, a study has found.

The creature was a powerfully-built meat-eating dinosaur with scythe-like claws for ripping its prey apart. It used its lower limbs to disembowel its victims.

Experts have named the seven-foot long dinosaur, which was discovered in Romania, Balaur bondoc, which means ''stocky dragon''.

Other dinosaur fossils found in the same region include cow-sized relatives of giant sauropod dinosaurs, and tiny duck-billed dinosaurs.

''Balaur might be one of the largest predators in this ecosystem because not even a big tooth has been found in Romania after over 100 years of research,'' said dinosaur expert Dr Zoltan Csiki, from the University of Bucharest, one of the authors of the research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Towards the end of the dinosaurs' reign, in the Late Cretaceous period, much of present-day Europe was an archipelago of islands.

A partial skeleton of Balaur including leg, hip, vertebrae, arms, rib and tail bones, was unearthed from a former floodplain near the city of Sebes in central Romania.

The dinosaur is related to the Velociraptor.

However, it had a stockier build, with short legs and powerful muscles, suggesting it was built for strength rather than speed, Its most unusual feature was two oversized toe claws instead of Velociraptor's one.

Co-researcher Stephen Brusatte, from Columbia University in New York, said: ''Balaur is a new breed of predatory dinosaur, very different from anything we have ever known.

''Its anatomy shows that it probably hunted in a different way than its less stocky relatives. Compared to Velociraptor, Balaur was probably more of a kickboxer than a sprinter, and it might have been able to take down larger animals than itself, as many carnivores do today.''

Balaur had unusually small hands containing fused bones, which would have made grasping difficult.

Scientists believe the lower limbs rather than the hands were used to grasp and disembowel prey.

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