Temporal range: Early Cretaceous, 105 Ma
|Illustration of the holotype manual bone|
Rapator is a genus of theropod dinosaur from the Griman Creek Formation of New South Wales, Australia, dating to the Albian age of the early Cretaceous period, 105 million years ago. It contains only the type species, Rapator ornitholestoides, which was originally named by Friedrich von Huene in 1932.
The holotype and only known specimen, BMNH R3718, consists of a single left hand bone, discovered around 1905 near Wollaston, on the Lightning Ridge. The fossil has been opalised. The bone has a length of seven centimetres. This manual element shows a prominent dorsomedial process, a feature shared with the much smaller Ornitholestes which occasioned the specific name. The process with Ornitholestes is much less distinctive though. On its upper end there is only one cotyle, from which von Huene deduced it must have been a metacarpal. However, several coelurosaurian groups lack a second cotyle on the first phalanx also. If Rapator had a build like Australovenator, it would have attained a considerable size: a body length of nine metres (30 ft) has been estimated. Remains of a megaraptorid, referred to by the public media as "Lightning Claw," discovered in opal fields southwest of Lightning Ridge, Australia, may well represent more material of Rapator.
The type specimen of Rapator was originally described as a metacarpal I, a bone from the upper part of a theropod's hand. It was later noted that the bone is similar to a finger bone, the first phalanx of the first finger, of an alvarezsaur or of a primitive coelurosaurian similar to Nqwebasaurus. With the discovery of Australovenator, which had a similar metacarpal, Rapator was recognized as a probable megaraptoran. In fact, Australovenator and Rapator differ only in some small details of the bone and may be synonyms, though Agnolin and colleagues in 2010 considered Rapator a dubious genus (nomen dubium) due to its fragmentary nature. However, White et al. found differences between the hand bone of Rapator and the equivalent bone of Australovenator, supporting the distinction between the two. They also noted that the two genera come from formations separated chronologically by about 10 million years, making them unlikely to be synonymous.
The meaning of the generic name is problematic. Von Huene gave no etymology. "Rapator" does not exist in Classical Latin and occurs only very rarely in Mediaeval Latin with the meaning "violator". One possible explanation is that von Huene, having been influenced by Latin raptare, "to plunder", mistakenly thought such a word actually existed with the meaning of "plunderer". It has also been considered a simple misspelling of, or confusion with, raptor, "seizer" or "thief". The specific name means "resembling Ornitholestes".
- White, M. A.; Falkingham, P. L.; Cook, A. G.; Hocknull, S. A.; Elliott, D. A. (2013). "Morphological comparisons of metacarpal I forAustralovenator wintonensisandRapator ornitholestoides: Implications for their taxonomic relationships". Alcheringa: an Australasian Journal of Palaeontology: 1. doi:10.1080/03115518.2013.770221.
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- Bell, P. R., Cau, A., Fanti, F., & Smith, E. (2015). A large-clawed theropod (Dinosauria: Tetanurae) from the Lower Cretaceous of Australia and the Gondwanan origin of megaraptorid theropods. Gondwana Research.
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- Agnolin, Ezcurra, Pais and Salisbury, (2010). "A reappraisal of the Cretaceous non-avian dinosaur faunas from Australia and New Zealand: Evidence for their Gondwanan affinities." Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 8(2): 257-300.
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- Lambert, D. (1991) The Dinosaur Data Book: the definitive illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles. Gramercy Books. p. 89