The function of the highly recurved claw on the foot of raptor dinosaurs has largely remained a mystery to paleontologists.
Now, by examining the fossilized remains of a recently discovered species of raptor, scientists have found new evidence that the claw was, in fact, used as a weapon.
The new dinosaur—dubbed Talos sampsoni—is a member of a rare group of feathered, bird-like theropod dinosaurs which represent the first definitive troodontid theropod to be named from the Late Cretaceous of North America in over 75 years.
“Finding a decent specimen of this type of dinosaur in North America is like a lighting strike… it’s a random event of thrilling proportions,” said Lindsay Zanno, lead author of the study naming the new dinosaur.
Interestingly, the holotype specimen of Talos also tells us something about theropod behavior, particularly raptor behavior.
This is because the second toe – that is, the one with the enlarged talon – of the left foot of the new specimen is deformed, indicating that the animal suffered a fracture or bite during its life.
“People have speculated that the talon on the foot of raptor dinosaurs was used to capture prey, fight with other members of the same species, or defend the animal against attack. Our interpretation supports the idea that these animals regularly put this toe in harm’s way,” Zanno said.
The study has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.