Dakotaraptor is a genus of large carnivorous theropod dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of North America.
The first fossils of Dakotaraptor were found in South Dakota, United States, in 2005. In 2015, the genus Dakotaraptor received its name, meaning “plunderer of Dakota”, when the type species Dakotaraptor steini was described. The fossils contain an incomplete skeleton without a skull and some individual bones. They have been found in the Maastrichtian-age Hell Creek Formation, dated to the very end of the Cretaceous period, making Dakotaraptor one of the last surviving dromaeosaurids.
Dakotaraptor was about 5.5 metres (18 ft) long, which makes it one of the largest dromaeosaurids known. It had long arms. One of the lower arm bones shows quill knobs, demonstrating that it was most likely feathered. It also had long rear legs with a very large sickle claw on the second toe; this claw could be used to kill relatively large plant-eating dinosaurs. It lived in the same time and area as Tyrannosaurus.
In 2005, paleontologist Robert DePalma in Harding County, South Dakota discovered the skeleton of a large dromaeosaurid. Subsequently, the same site produced additional dromaeosaurid remains, as well as abundant other fossils in 2010 described by DePalma in his master’s thesis. In 2015, the type species Dakotaraptor steini was named and described by Robert A. DePalma, David A. Burnham, Larry Dean Martin, Peter Lars Larson and Robert Thomas Bakker. The generic name combines a reference to South Dakota and the Dakota people with a Latin raptor, “plunderer”. The specific name honours paleontologist Walter W. Stein. Dakotaraptor was one of eighteen dinosaur taxa from 2015 to be described in open access or free-to-read journals.
The holotype, PBMNH.P.10.113.T, was found in a sandstone layer of the upper Hell Creek Formation, dating from the late Maastrichtian. It consists of a partial skeleton, lacking the skull, of an adult individual. It contains a piece of a back vertebra, ten tail vertebrae, both humeri, both ulnae, both radii, the first and second right metacarpals, three claws of the left hand, a right thighbone, both shinbones, a left astragalus bone, a left calcaneum, the left second, third and fourth metatarsal, the right fourth metatarsal, and the second and third claw of the right foot. An assigned furcula was later excluded from the specimen. Apart from the remains of the holotype, in the site bones were discovered that also belonged to Dakotaraptor but which represented a more gracile morph. These included the specimens PBMNH.P.10.115.T: a right shinbone; PBMNH.P.10.118.T: a connected left astragalus and calcaneum; and KUVP 152429: originally identified as a furcula, but now also excluded from the known remains of Dakotaraptor. Additionally four isolated teeth were referred, specimens PBMNH.P.10.119.T, PBMNH.P.10.121.T, PBMNH.P.10.122.T, and PBMNH.P.10.124.T. These fossils are part of the collection of The Palm Beach Museum of Natural History. Other referred fossils are KUVP 156045, an isolated tooth, and NCSM 13170, a third supposed furcula later identified as not belonging to Dakotaraptor.
Dakotaraptor is exceptionally large for a dromaeosaurid; it has an estimated adult length of 5.5 m (18 ft). This approaches the size of the largest known dromaeosaurid, Utahraptor. Dakotaraptor however, does not have the proportions and adaptations of Utahraptor, but more closely resembles smaller dromaeosaurids like Deinonychus.
Apart from the large size, the description of 2015 indicated some additional distinguishing traits. On the fourth foot claw, the boss that serves as an attachment for the tendon of the flexor muscle is reduced in size. The “blood groove” on the outer side of the fourth claw of the foot, towards the tip is fully enclosed over half of its length, forming a bony tubular structure. The second and third claws of the foot have sharp keels at their undersides. The second foot claw, the “sickle claw”, equals 29% of the thighbone length. On the shinbone, the crista fibularis, the crest that contacts the calfbone, is long and lightly built with a height that does not exceed 9% of the crest length. The upper edge of this crest ends in a hook. On the second metacarpal, of the two condyles that contact the finger, the inner one is almost as large as the outer one. The outer side of the second metacarpal has but a shallow groove for the ligament that connects it to the third metacarpal. When the arm is seen in a flat position, of the second metacarpal the edge between the wrist joint and the upper shaft is straight in top view. The teeth have fifteen to twenty denticles per 5 millimetres (0.20 in) on the rear edges and twenty to twenty-seven denticles on the front edges.
The vertebrae of the back are highly pneumatised, filled with trabecular bone that shows many air spaces. On the middle tail vertebrae the front joint processes, the prezygapophyses, are extremely elongated with an estimated intact length of 70 centimetres (28 in), spanning about ten vertebrae. This stiffens the tail.
The foot claws of Dakotaraptor include a typical dromaeosaurid raptorial second claw, or “sickle claw”, which was used for killing or holding down prey. It is large and robust with a diameter of 16 centimetres (6.3 in) and a length of 24 centimetres (9.4 in) measured along the outer curve. This equals 29% of the length of the thighbone, compared to 23% in Deinonychus. The claw is transversely flattened and has a droplet-shaped cross-section. The flexor tubercle, a large bump near the base, served as an attachment site for flexor muscles – the larger it was, the greater the slashing strength. Dakotaraptor has a flexor tubercle that is larger relative to overall claw size than it is in other discovered dromaeosaurids, potentially giving it the strongest slashing strength of any known member of this group. The flexor tubercle on the third claw of the foot is almost non-existent, very reduced in size compared to other dromaeosaurids, suggesting a more minimized use of that claw. As these are the bony cores of the claws, they would have been covered in a keratinous sheath that extended the “nail” and ended in a sharp tip. The third claw too is keeled but is much smaller with a tip to joint length of 7 centimetres (2.8 in) and a curve length of 9 centimetres (3.5 in). The groove on its outer side towards the tip ends in a bone tunnel, a rare condition.