A team of Chinese and American researchers have discovered the remains of a venomous, birdlike raptor that thrived some 128 million years ago in China.
The dromaeosaur or Sinornithosaurus (Chinese-bird-lizard), likely inhabited prehistoric forests of northeastern China that were populated by a diverse number of primitive animals.
“This thing is a venomous bird for all intents and purposes. [It was] an animal about the size of a turkey,” said Larry Martin, KU professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute.
“It’s a specialized predator of small dinosaurs and birds. It was almost certainly feathered. It’s a very close relative of the four-winged glider called Microraptor.”
According to Martin, the venom was used to send a victim into rapid shock, which reduced the chances of retaliation, escape or piracy from other predators.
Researcher David Burnham added that the poison gland – which was housed in unique depressions located along the side of the raptor’s face – was strikingly similar to the venom-delivery system in modern rear-fanged snakes and lizards.
“You wouldn’t have seen it coming. It would have swooped down behind you from a low-hanging tree branch and attacked from the back,” said Burnham.
“It wanted to get its jaws around you. Once the teeth were embedded in your skin the venom could seep into the wound. The prey would rapidly go into shock, but it would still be living, and it might have seen itself being slowly devoured by this raptor.”
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