Genus: Buitreraptor Gonzalezorum
The Buitreraptorwas a small dinosaur. It lived on the earth towards the end of the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era. The phase of its existence is calculated to be about 100 to 90 million years ago. This period lies in the Cenomanian and the Turonian ages of the Cretaceous. It was a dromaeosaurid dinosaur, the same group that contains the famous velociraptor. But the Buitreraptor preceded the Velociraptor by about 30 million years.
Even when fully grown, this dinosaur would probably weigh only 3 kilos. Its size was comparable to that of modern day ducks and chicken. The fossils of this creature have not been conclusive in shedding light upon its size or physical features. The available information has been compared to the other similar dromaeosaurids such as the Microraptor and the Sinornithosaurus.
The most prominent feature of the Buitreraptor was its elongated jaw. It most likely was a carnivore and used its snout to tear apart its prey. Whether it could fly or not still remains a mystery till date; its contemporaries most certainly could. The current fossil evidence does not point out either scenario unambiguously.
The word ‘Buitre’ of the name Buitreraptorhas more than one implication. The fossils of this dinosaur were discovered in the La Buitrera region of South America. ‘Buitrera’ means ‘vulture’s perch’ in Spanish. Furthermore, due to the long beak-like snout of this dinosaur, it resembles modern day vultures. Thus the word ‘buitre’ considers the provenance as well as the physical features of the dinosaur. The suffix ‘raptor’ is the Latin word for ‘plunderer’. Since it was carnivorous, such a suffix is appropriate.
Thus, the name Buitreraptor translates to ‘plunderer of the vulture’s roost’.
The specific name B. gonzalezorum honors the Gonzalez brothers who were key in discovering the remains of this dinosaur. This nomenclature was performed by scientists Makovicky, Apestiguia and others.
Discovery and nature of fossils
- The remains of the Buitreraptor were excavated in the La Buitrera region of Patagonia that lies in Argentina. The expedition that lad to this discovery was led by Sebastian Apestiguia, an Argentinian paleontologist and the Peter Makovicky, the curator of the Field Museum of Chicago. The mission commenced in the year 2004 and the bones were discovered in 2005. This region lies in the Candeleros Formation of Patagonia.
- At that time, bones from four different individual Buitreraptors were excavated. The holotype consisted of the skull and a few bones of the appendicular as well as axial skeleton. The second individual yielded a fused sacral bone, the right half of the pelvic girdle and the right hind limb. The final two individuals have not yet been defined as the information provided by them is very scarce.
The Buitreraptor is classified under suborder Theropoda, family dromaeosauridae and subfamily Unelangiinae. The subfamily unelangiinae consists of the most primitive of the dromaeosaurids. The classification of this dinosaur was never a matter of debate as its peers are well defined and its bones have provided adequate information to place among them. However, detailed data about its nature and phenotypic features cannot be deduced based on its remains.
The Candeleros Formation
The Candeleros Formation is a part of the Neuquen Group of Argentina. It is a part of the Rio Limay subgroup. It is the oldest member of the Neuquen Group of geological formations.
The fossils found in this formation date back to the late Cretaceous Period. It consists mainly of sandstone and rock clasts with fine grained matrices. Some silt stone is also present in the midst of these rocks, showing that rivers and other moving waterbodies were also present here.
The Gigantosaurus, one of the largest known dinosaurs, was discovered in this formation.
- The Buitreraptor was a petit dinosaur. Its weight was about 8 to 12 pounds and its adult length was close to 1.5 meters form snout to tip of tail.
- The skull of this reptile showed an elongated snout. The teeth on this snout were smaller in size as compared to the other dromaeosaurs. They also lacked serrations, which make the feeding habits of the dinosaur even more perplexing.
- The forelimbs of the dinosaur consisted for three digits. These digits were proportionally smaller than those of its peers and they were similar in size. Most other dromaeosaurs had the central phalange significantly longer than the other two fingers.
- It is unknown whether the Buitreraptor possessed feathers as its exoskeleton. No feather fossils have yet been ascribed to it. But the dinosaurs related to it had feathers (their fossils have been discovered) and hence most scientists agree that the Buitreraptor possessed them too.
- The flying ability of the Buitreraptor has also not been established yet. In fact it has not been proved without doubt that any of the dromaeosaurids could fly. Some scientists believe that the Rahonavis, a relative of the Buitreraptor could fly. If it did, it is quite possible that the Buitreraptor could too.
How did the dromaeosaurids develop flying abilities would the next unanswered question. They would need to develop this feature independent of birds.
- The tail of the Buitreraptor was long and slender. Many artists portray its tail with a lush plumage of feathers, but as mentioned earlier, no evidence proving this exists.
Habits and habitat
- The Buitreraptor was a carnivore. But the lack of serrations on its teeth indicates it may have been a scavenger. The other possibility is that it ate very small lizards and mammals by pinning them down with its digits and tearing them apart with its beak.
- It was most likely terrestrial, but could have been arboreal too.
- No other information is available about its nesting or mating habits.
- The habitat of the Buitreraptor consisted of grasslands that had lakes, swamps and rivers aplenty.
Related and co-existing species
The Buitreraptor is related to the Rahonavis, Austrotaptor and the Unenlagia. It is very distantly related to the velociraptor.
The Gigantosaurus and the Mapusarus likely shared the environment of the Buitreraptor and also predated upon it.
The final notes
A lot of the information about the Buitreraptor is missing. This is because a complete and well preserved skeleton has not been attributed to it yet. If and when more fossils get uncovered, scientist would better understand this unique dinosaur.