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Dakotaraptor steini: Ghost of the Floodplain Forest


It’s understandable if you’re not quite as excited as Henry was when he found out about Dakotaraptor, but there is a lot to be excited about. For those of you who aren’t aware, Dakotaraptor steini is Hell Creek’s newly described, large-bodied dromaeosaur, representing a major new addition to an already famous menagerie and paints a much more nuanced picture of Hell Creek’s ecosystem. Dakotaraptor is described based on an associated partial skeleton (PBMNH.P.10.113.T) of an individual that, in life, would have approached 5m in length and may have massed out at more than 200kg (around 440lbs).

Dakotaraptor steini concept art by RJ Palmer. Our team is super excited to implement this amazing discovery into Saurian. Size and proportions based on an earlier revision of the publication and may be subject to change.

In addition to being roughly the size of the iconic “Raptors” from Jurassic Park, there are two very exciting skeletal features preserved in Dakotaraptor. The paper describes a massive dromaeosaur sickle claw on the middle toe. It measures 16 cm from top to bottom and 24 cm along the outer curve. This was an impressively large raptorial claw, even for an animal this size.
The ulna, a bone in the forearm, bares 15 large and distinct quill knobs, or ulnar papillae, which are reinforced attachment points on the wings of birds and other dinosaurs where the large, pennaceous feathers attach. This makes Dakotaraptor the largest known dinosaur with confirmed wings.

Dakotaraptor was discovered in South Dakota at a fine grain sandstone (Konzentrat-Lagerstätte) site that offers the potential for exceptional fossil preservation, known as Bone Butte. It is most likely located within the upper 20m of the Hell Creek Formation (DePalma, 2010).

One of the most exciting implications of Dakotaraptor is how it fits into what we know of the Hell Creek ecosystem. Prior to this discovery, it was believed that different growth stages of tyrannosaur were the primary occupant of every major medium and large carnivore niche, and there was even some suggestion that tyrannosaurs suppressed or out competed any other potential ecological rivals. Dakotaraptor soundly turns this notion on its head, but it does so by illustrating a major difference in ecology. Subadult and juvenile tyrannosaurs are long legged pursuit predators, while Dakotaraptor, like most dromaeosaurs, appears built for ambush and grappling with prey. By exploiting different life strategies, Dakotaraptor was able to survive alongside tyrannosaurs while potentially utilizing the same prey resources. Despite this partitioning, Dakotaraptor appears to have been ‘Ghost of the Forest’, a rare component of the Hell Creek Fauna. In over 100 years of intensive sampling, this is the first time we’ve found enough of Dakotaraptor to recognize its existence, while we have dozens of specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Dakotaraptor concept art compared to Acheroraptor and a young Tyrannosaurus.

So the question you’ve all probably been asking since the beginning of the post, how does Dakotaraptor influence Saurian? As the ‘missing competitor’ to subadult Tyrannosaurus, Dakotaraptor adds a much needed layer of competition to this portion of the ecosystem. In modern ecosystems, organisms who are drawing upon the same pool of prey resources have a vested interest in both avoiding injury while also eliminating potential competition for said resources. Predators often resolve this dilemma by purposefully targeting the young of their competitors. In sub-Saharan Africa for example, lions and hyenas will kill each others young with no intent to consume them as a way to eliminate potential future competition (Schaller, 1976). This tendency to purposefully eliminate potential competitors can even extend down the food chain. In Yellowstone, wolves will kill coyotes, foxes and bobcats as a means to increase the potential prey base available to them. (LiveScience 2007) This behavior is known as Intraguild Predation, and we think it will add significantly to Saurian’s gameplay.

As a side note, Dakotaraptor is something of a vindication for those of us who have been working on on Saurian since the the beginning. Early on, when we were first researching Hell Creek, we encountered numerous references to a ‘saurornitholestine’ and the occasional mention of a phantom ‘large dromaeosaurine’ or images of large dromaeosaur teeth would crop up in google searches, usually on the pages of commercial fossil dealers. As mentioned in the paper, it is probable that all of these do in fact belong to Dakotaraptor, but at the time there was no hard evidence to support this animal’s existence. The publishing of Acheroraptor in 2013 appeared to resolve this controversy for us; the saurornitholestine and the ‘dromaeosaur’ appeared to be the same animal. Now with the publication of Dakotaraptor, we’ve come full circle, and both animals that were basically known only from teeth are now named and far better understood than when we started.

* DePalma et al. 2015, The first giant raptor (theropoda: dromaeosauridae) from the latest Cretaceous (Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota), Paleontological Contributions vol. 15.
* DePalma, 2010, Geology, taphonomy, and paleoecology of a unique upper Cretaceous bonebed near the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in South Dakota, Florida Atlantic University 2007.
* LiveScience Staff, 2007, Coyotes cower in wolf territory, LiveScience, []
* Schaller 1976, Serengeti Lion: A Study in Predator-Prey Relationships, University of Chicago Press, pp. 337

  • Amy on February 12, 2016

    I think thinning the feathers on Dakotaraptor’s neck and making them a little shorter on the head would complete the look a bit more. Still a very cool design though!

  • irondune on December 22, 2015

    Awesome dromeasaur!
    But it doesn’t need to be playable though, we can already play as Acheroraptor and Tyrannosaurus (which will have similar gameplay when in juvenile stage)

    • Desmonaea on June 23, 2016

      I think it would be awesome to play as Dakotaraptor. Having a larger dromaesaur to hunt down prey, stalk, and take them out in a stealthy and well thought out process would be interesting. With Acheroraptor, it’s very small and wouldn’t be able to take out bigger prety. T-Rex ambushes and takes things down with a lot of power. Dakotaraptor’s way of hunting would complete the kinds of hunting styles.

  • Halfpaw on November 28, 2015

    Love this team. Love this dino. The model looks amazing and I hope (though it may be to much work to be reasonable) that Dakotaraptor becomes playable as well.

  • Lucas Hollands on November 8, 2015

    Please, Please, PLEASE let this dinosaur be playable

  • Eric Noobly on November 5, 2015

    Perhaps playable dakoraptor? That might be nice.

  • Ian Carlsen on November 3, 2015

    If I may indulge in a bit of armchair comparative biology here…

    The large feathers on the wings have me imagining Dakotaraptors “mantling” fallen prey, in a manner similar to what hawks and falcons will do to reduce the chance of other predators trying to snatch it away.

    Watching hawks perform this behavior in the wild is pretty incredible, they get such a craven and paranoid look about them as they “secretly” eat in plain sight. It would be quite the thing to watch a Dakotaraptor or even an Acheroraptor attempt something similar.

  • mw on November 3, 2015

    Your models are really beautiful, some really nice works of art there. Can’t wait to see the game

  • YafiszKhan on October 31, 2015

    Looks cool, but Mesozoica beat you guys to it. Doesn’t matter though, I’m sure your model will look as good as Fabiani’s as well.

      • YafiszKhan on October 31, 2015

        It’s not, but technically Mesozoica beat every other game given that they were contacted to add the dinosaur into the game before it was released.

        • Nick Turinetti on October 31, 2015

          We’re not in competition with Mesozoica.

    • Altair on November 1, 2015

      TBH the Dakotaraptor looks like just a reskin of the deinonychus. Better wait 1 month and have a good looking model than rushing and recycling what’s already there just to be the first. We’re not at the primary school. Well, I’m not. Maybe you are 🙂 jk

      • 0wolfmoon0 on November 5, 2015

        I think that’s a bit harsh… it maybe because they look similar. Remember this is concept art, so there’s really no need to reskin anything. It probably takes almost as much time to make a reskin of something as it does to make it from scratch, especially since it’s concept art based off the actual skeleton.

  • The watcher on October 31, 2015

    First Trex boss confirmed?

  • ChickenFetus on October 30, 2015

    Given how fond I am of literature and speculation about niche partitioning and competition (especially between predators), I’m REALLY REALLY excited to hear about this!

  • Khalil Beiting on October 30, 2015

    And this is why I love this game and Saurian’s dev team so much. You put so much detail and originality into your game. I’m also incredibly excited of the prospect of giant Dromaeosaurids hunting the ravenous “swarms” of highly precocial Tyrannosaurus rex juveniles. Speaking of enigmatic Hell Creek species, have you guys/girls/emus in the dev team heard about the fragmentary remains of a Therizinosaur in the Hell Creek? Also, what will you make of the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs specimen of “Nanotyrannus”? Regardless of whether or not juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex remains are actually a seperate taxon,the MDD specimen is still very different from the juvenile Tyrannosaurus specimen called “Jane”.
    What are your thoughts on this matter?

    • hunter1324 on October 30, 2015

      Well so far the Hell Creek Therizinosaurid seems to be known only from a possible Astragalus (as far as I know, I wasn’t at SVP or anything like that…).

      This was really something I didn’t expect… wonder if it might be the actual identity of all those “Pectinodon” teeth found in Hell Creek…

      • Makalaka on October 30, 2015

        Troodontid teeth are pretty distinct from those of dromaeosaurs; they’re usually quite small but with relatively large serrations.

      • hunter1324 on October 30, 2015

        Also a paper published a few years ago seem to show that the Tyrannosaurids forelimbs suffered negative allmotery during their growth to adulthood, so juvenile Tarbosaurus and Albertosaurus had considerbaly longer arms proportionally than adults. Considering that we don’t actually have forelimbs material for Jane it is quite possible that she had the same proportions as the DDM Tyrannosaurid (only that while Larson and Bakker used it to justify the validity of Jane as a Nanotyrannus it might actually be further proof that both Bloody Mary and Jane were actually juvenile T. rex).

      • Khalil Beiting on October 31, 2015

        I don’t think the “Pectinodon” teeth would belong to this guy, or any Dromaeosaurid for that matter. Troodontids (including the Hell Creek teeth) are well known due to their strange, leaf like serations on their teeth (which is likely an indicator of an omnivourus diet). Due to this, it’s easier to tell the difference from a Troodontid than a Dromaeosaurid.

    • Nick Turinetti on October 31, 2015

      Intraguild Predation can work both ways. Imagine being pursued by an angry mob of Jane-sized Tyrannosaurus who remember what its like to be hunted by Dakotaraptor…
      As far as the Hell Creek Therizinosaur is concerned, it appears that the bone once considered an astragalus is actually the quadrate bone of a Tyrannosaurus. (

      As far as we are concerned, there is no reason to consider ‘Bloody Mary’ as anything other than a subadult tyrannosaur until it is available for peer reviewed study. I am very dubious of the skeletal posted, as nobody other than apparently Larson and Bakker has ever even looked at it.

      • Khalil Beiting on November 6, 2015

        Thanks for the info on the Hell Creek Therizinosaur. Too bad it’s not a possible valid taxon, because it would be great to have even more diversity in the Hell Creek, and to Laramdia in general. And thanks again for the insight on the posted skeletal. I honestly have no clue how or why he made the skeletal since he doesn’t have access to it. I honestly think he might have just went with pictures on the internet for his reference. I also had serious doubts about it’s credibility when I compared his reconstruction to the know pictures, and I saw many severe flaws and inaccuricies. A few things I noticed right away is how the skull is less robust in real life, the neck is longer/not as thick, the tail is longer, the arms aren’t as long, and the most obvious feature is how the skeletal actually has this weird, robust, barrel like body. When you just have an ordinary look at what’s known from pictures, you can tell that the MDD specimen is about as “normal” as the specimen known as Jane. There were also some weird size estimates that are known to be false. There were rumors around the internet that it was 30 ft. long, which in the eyes of a “Nanotyrannus” supporter and/or fanboy, this makes them automaticaly assume that it must be a seperate taxon to Tyrannosaurus since it’s much larger than any juvenile Tyrannosaurus with similiar features.

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