It's Theropod Thursday again, and we're excited, because today's feature serves three purposes. First, it gives us the chance to serve up one of the most exciting specimens from the collection at the Museum of Ancient Life. Second, it gives us the chance to talk more about an exciting project surrounding that specimen, and third, it gift wraps a chance to go all fan-boy on this week's premiere of the new movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which opens tomorrow. So who is the star of today's blog post? Allow us to introduce the one and only Utahraptor! (Cue The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper intro music.)
Utahraptor ostrommaysorum was a large dromaeosaurid (sickle-clawed theropod) that was first found in Utah's Arches National Park in 1991. It was described in 1993 - the same year that the blockbuster Jurassic Park catapulted dinosaurs back into popular cinematic culture, and put Velociraptor on the map. There was one thing that a lot of people noticed about the movie's antagonist predators - they were WAY TOO BIG to be Velociraptors, which haven't been found to be any larger than waist high to an average human. The movie's raptors had been modeled on Deinonychus, a larger and earlier cousin to the late cretaceous Velociraptor. Even so, some Hollywood license was still necessary. (Science has since furthered the validation of feathers on Velociraptor and other contemporaries, but that's another discussion entirely.)
But in Utahraptor, life kind of imitated art. Found in rock from around 126 million years ago, these early cretaceous predators had the size and menace to be more like their movie cousins. The type specimen, CEU 184v.86, is housed at the College of Eastern Utah in Price. This cast is most likely of that specimen. But in 2001, a chance discovery of a bone sticking out of a block of sandstone led to the study and excavation of a nine ton block apparently containing as many as six different Utahraptors, as well as an iguanadontid of some sort. Scientists have theorized that the group was trapped in quicksand while trying to pursue the prey.
The block is at the Museum of Ancient Life, and funding is being gathered up to study it in depth via The Utahraptor Project. See this link for a lot more information, and for a link to their GoFundMe page: http://utahraptors.utahpaleo.org/ There's certainly a tremendous amount to be learned from this discovery, and it's exciting to see how it will all develop. Hopefully, Utahraptor will soon take is place in the imaginations of young dinosaur lovers everywhere. And of course, the most recent movie in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens up this week as well. So we'll all have dinosaurs on the brain for a while.