10 Awesome Facts About Utahraptor

During the Jurassic Park-crazed early ‘90s, Utahraptor became a media darling. Now, more than 20 years later, some great new finds just might push this predator back into the limelight.

1. IT WAS ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST “RAPTORS.”

Scientists call Velociraptor, Microraptor, and their kin “dromaeosaurs” (the unofficial raptor nickname is way cooler, though). At around 18 feet long, Utahraptor could have easily been the biggest of the bunch. However, Asia’s impressive Achillobator giganticus might eventually give it a run for its money—if some more complete skeletons emerge.

2. WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (1999) PUT UTAHRAPTOR ON THE WRONG CONTINENT.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS

During an epic scene from this now-classic miniseries, a Utahraptor pack goes Iguanodon hunting through Europe. As you’ve probably deduced, Utahraptor was originally found well within the U.S. (care to guess where?) and, so far, this animal has left no trace across the pond.

3. THE CARNIVORE WIELDED TERRIFYINGLY-HUGE TOE CLAWS.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

To Hollywood, brandishing nasty, hook-like claws on each foot is basically the raison d’etre of any dromaeosaur. At their bony cores, Utahraptor’s were 9 inches long apiece, and the nails themselves were probably 15 inches!

4. IT WASN’T THE ONLY “RAPTOR” IN TOWN.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

One hundred and twenty-six million years ago, Utahraptor coexisted with the coyote-sized dromaeosaur Yurgovuchia doellingi near what’s now Arches National Park.

5. PALEONTOLOGIST ROBERT BAKKER MADE A CLEVER UTAHRAPTORTHE STAR OF HIS FIRST NOVEL.

Ballista, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re a self-respecting dino maniac, go check out Raptor Red. Robert Bakker, a fossil-hunting icon, felt that most storytellers unfairly typecast predators as bloodthirsty villains. To counter this, his novel follows an energetic Utahraptor and her family as they fight for survival in a harsh prehistoric wilderness.

6. UTAHRAPTOR IS PART OF AN INTERESTING EVOLUTIONARY TREND.

Matt Martyniuk, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

As time went by, truly huge dromaeosaurs like Utahraptor and Achillobator fell out of fashion. As they disappeared, smaller relatives (like North America’s 11-foot Deinonychus) began arising until, by 75 million years ago, few “raptors” were much bigger than a modern turkey.

7. UTAHRAPTOR CRASHED THE PILOT EPISODE OF PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD.

PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD

The creators of this time-traveling drama gave their Utahraptor a fluffy, bird-like coat. While there’s no direct evidence for feathers in this particular genus, the dino’s celebrity cousin Velociraptor is known to have rocked sturdy ones upon its lower arms.

8. IT WAS ALMOST NAMED AFTER STEVEN SPIELBERG.

Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia Commons// CC BY 2.5

Everything would have come together perfectly. Utahraptor fragments had previously been found in 1975, but the beast received neither a name nor any serious attention until better specimens were unearthed well over a decade later. By 1991, paleontologist James I. Kirkland had rounded up some amazing new material and decided to call this forgotten creature “Utahraptor.” However, he hadn’t yet assigned it a species name.

That’s when a golden business opportunity came a-knocking. The highly-anticipated Jurassic Park had already entered pre-production, so Kirkland contacted JP’s director and offered to dub his dino “Utahraptor spielbergi” in exchange for fieldwork funds. Regrettably, Kirkland’s plan bore no fruit, and the name U. ostrommaysorum was chosen instead. (C’mon, Spielberg: Whatever happened to “Spared no expense?”)

9. A UTAHRAPTOR GRAVEYARD AWAITS FURTHER STUDY.

To date, our understanding of Utahraptor has been woefully incomplete, since the dinosaur’s known from very few specimens. But that’s all about to change: A 16-foot adult, four adolescents, and a three-foot baby were recently found together in the Utah dirt. This haul includes Utahraptor bones we’ve never seen before, and the fact that so many were found in close proximity might even offer clues about dromaeosaur social lives. “We’re really going to have a different view of this guy,” says Kirkland, who’s been overseeing their excavation.

10. SEVERAL SKELETONS WERE TEMPORARILY LEFT IN A PARKING LOT.

Emily Willoughby via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Last November, Kirkland’s new Utahraptor gang found itself stranded. After the rock slab which contained these skeletons was sealed in a protective plaster jacket and hauled to Salt Lake City, it was stored between vehicles in an outdoor parking lot until more suitable housing was located.

Article first appeared on NationalGeographic.com

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