Temporal range: Late Cretaceous, 85Ma
|Species:||† V. unicus|
In 1985 Oscar de Ferrariis and Zulma Gasparini uncovered fossils at Boca del Sapo in Neuquén province of Patagonia from layers of the Bajo de la Carpa Formation, dating from the Santonian. Among them was the right lower hind limb of a small theropod. In 1991 this dinosaur was described and named by José Bonaparte as Velocisaurus unicus. The generic name is derived from Latin velox, "swift", a reference to the fact that the hind leg and foot show adaptations for running. The specific name means "unique" in Latin, referring to the exceptional build of the foot.
Velocisaurus was probably around 1.2 meters long (4 ft), the tibia having a length of fourteen centimeters. The foot is unique in that the middle (third) metatarsal has become the main weight-bearing element. Its upper end has thickened whereas the shafts of the adjoining second and fourth metatarsals have thinned considerably. Such a configuration is unknown for other theropods, including birds. Bonaparte explained it as an adaptation for a cursorial (running) lifestyle. The high speed would have been necessary to escape larger theropods; Bonaparte suggested that Velocisaurus was itself an omnivore, as indicated by the fact that the sole claw found, of the fourth toe, was not trenchant but relatively straight.
Bonaparte originally assigned Velocisaurus to a family of its own, the Velocisauridae. A study of theropod relationships by Fernando Novas and Sebastian Apesteguia in 2003 showed that Velocisaurus was a close relative of the strange ceratosaur Masiakasaurus. These two may form a subfamily, the Velocisaurinae. In 2004 this subfamily was assigned to the Noasauridae within the more inclusive Abelisauroidea.
- Bonaparte J.F. (1991). "Los vertebrados fósiles de la Formación Rio Colorado, de la Ciudad de Neuquén y Cercanías, Cretácico Superior, Argentina" [The fossil vertebrates of the Rio Colorado Formation, of the city of Neuquén and surroundings, Upper Cretaceous, Argentina]. Revista del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia" e Instituto Nacional de Investigación de las Ciencias Naturales. Paleontología 4: 17-123
- F. AGNOLÍN, F. NOVAS and S. APESTEGUÍA (2003). "Velocisaurids in South America and Madagascar". Ameghiniana 40(4): 77R. Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales ‘B. Rivadavia’, Av. Ángel Gallardo 470, (1405) Buenos Aires, Argentina
- F. E. Novas, F. L. Agnolin, and S. Bandyopadhyay, 2004, "Cretaceous theropods from India: a review of specimens described by Huene and Matley (1933)", Revista del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, nuevo serie 6(1): 67-103
- Rothschild, B., Tanke, D. H., and Ford, T. L., 2001, Theropod stress fractures and tendon avulsions as a clue to activity: In: Mesozoic Vertebrate Life, edited by Tanke, D. H., and Carpenter, K., Indiana University Press, p. 331-336.