“Death shadow” fossils of largest raptor dinosaur unearthed in Argentina


Argentine paleontologists have announced the discovery of an apex-predator dinosaur that measured three stories from nose to tail and eviscerated its prey with sharp, curved claws. The discovery represents the largest dinosaur belonging to the raptor family ever recorded.

The five-ton giant, the largest megaraptor unearthed to date, fed on smaller dinosaurs that it ripped to shreds with its talons before digging into their intestines, paleontologist Mauro Aranciaga told AFP.

It would have been the “apex predator” of its time, said Aranciaga — well deserving of its chilling scientific name “Maip macrothorax.”

Lifetime reconstruction of Maip by the Argentine illustrator Agustín Ozán.

National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET)

The first part, “Maip,” is derived from an “evil” mythological figure of Patagonia’s indigenous Aonikenk people.

The character was associated with “the shadow of the death” that “kills with cold wind” in the Andes mountains, according to a study reporting the find in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The second part, “macrothorax,” refers to the enormous expanse of the creature’s chest cavity — about 4 feet wide.

“Worthy of  a Lord of Rings movie”

The newly-identified monster measured nine to 10 meters in length, larger than any previously discovered type of megaraptor — a group of flesh-eating giants that once roamed what is now South America, according to Aranciaga’s team.

It lived about 70 million years ago towards the end of the Cretaceous period in what was then a tropical forest, long before the Andes mountain range and glaciers that now define Patagonia.

The reptile was found in Estancia La Anita, an area that looked very different 70 million years ago. “There were aquatic and terrestrial snails, plants of very different affiliation, it was a forest, almost a jungle, with puddles, lakes, streams, and diverse creatures such as frogs, turtles, fish, small birds, and mammals,” the scientists said in a statement.

Now, the area looks like a cinematic “dreamscape,” the paleontologists said.

“Today it is a place surrounded by huge mountains, glaciers, lakes, which demands that we have to walk for many hours in extreme weather conditions,”  Aranciaga said in a statement. “It is a place that today has an extraordinary view, a landscape worthy of  a Lord of Rings movie.”

The killer reptile had two sharp, curved claws per front paw, each talon some 40 centimeters long.

Aranciaga, now 29, had the good fortune of finding the first piece of Maip on his first-ever professional expedition three years ago to Argentina’s Santa Cruz province.

This led to months of meticulous digging, cleaning and classification of a large cache of bones: vertebrae as well as bits of rib, hip, tail and arm.

“When I lifted the vertebra and saw that it had the characteristics of a megaraptor, it was really a huge thrill,” recalled Aranciaga.

“Somehow I fulfilled my childhood dream… finding a new fossil and it turning out to be a megaraptor: the group in which I specialize,” he told AFP.

Maip was one of the last megaraptors to inhabit Earth before the dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, according to Fernando Novas of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences’ Laboratory of Comparative Anatomy.

It is also the southernmost megaraptor ever found, added Aranciaga, a doctoral fellow at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

Argentine paleontologist Mauro Aranciaga talks about the discovery of the fossilized bones of Maip macrothorax, the newly identified megaraptor dinosaur that inhabited the Argentinian Patagonian, at the Bernardino Rivadavia Argentine Museum of Natural Science, in Buenos Aires on May 2, 2022. 


Patagonia  has been the location of other major paleontological discoveries. In 2019, a herbivorous dinosaur that fended off predators with a row of spines running along its back and lived 140 million years ago was found in the territory. And in 2014, scientists announced they had unearthed the skeleton of a previously unknown, massive dinosaur species that was one of the largest land animals ever found.

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