Paleontologists have discovered a new raptor species in Inner Mongolia.  The exceptionally well preserved dinosaur, named Linheraptor exquisitus, is the first near complete skeleton of its kind to be found in the Gobi desert since 1972, and will help scientists work out the appearance of other closely related dinosaur species.

A study documenting the find was published today in Zootaxa.

Linheraptor is in the Dromaeosauridae family of the carnivorous theropod dinosaurs and lived during the Late Cretaceous period. In addition to Linheraptor and Velociraptor, theropod dinosaurs include charismatic meat-eaters like Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds.

Reconstruction of Linheraptor

Photo Credit: Matt van Rooijen

The new dinosaur was found in rocks of the Wulansuhai Formation, part of a group of red sandstone rocks found in Inner Mongolia, China during a field expedition by the researchers in 2008. It is the fifth dromaeosaurid discovered in these rocks, which are famous for their preservation of uncrushed, complete skeletons.

At approximately 2.5 metres long and 25 kilograms, Linheraptor would have been a fast, agile predator that preyed on small horned dinosaurs related to Triceratops. Like other dromaeosaurids, it possessed a large "killing claw" on the foot, which may have been used to capture prey. Within the Dromaeosauridae family, Linheraptor is most closely related to another recently discovered species Tsaagan mangas.

Linheraptor differs from all other dromaeosaurs because of a triangular hole in front of the eye socket called the antorbital fenestra, which is a space in the skull that sinuses would have occupied. In Linheraptor this triangular hole is divided into two cavities – one of which is particularly big.

"This is a really beautiful fossil and it documents a transitional stage in dromaeosaurid evolution," said Dr. Xu Xing, Professor of Palaeontology at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology&Paleoanthropology (IVPP).

Citation: Xu etal., A new dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai Formation of Inner Mongolia, China', Zootaxa, March 2010, 2403: 1–9