, 97:71 | Cite as

A new clade of archaic large-bodied predatory dinosaurs (Theropoda: Allosauroidea) that survived to the latest Mesozoic

  • Roger B. J. BensonEmail author
  • Matthew T. Carrano
  • Stephen L. Brusatte


Non-avian theropod dinosaurs attained large body sizes, monopolising terrestrial apex predator niches in the Jurassic–Cretaceous. From the Middle Jurassic onwards, Allosauroidea and Megalosauroidea comprised almost all large-bodied predators for 85 million years. Despite their enormous success, however, they are usually considered absent from terminal Cretaceous ecosystems, replaced by tyrannosaurids and abelisaurids. We demonstrate that the problematic allosauroids Aerosteon, Australovenator, Fukuiraptor and Neovenator form a previously unrecognised but ecologically diverse and globally distributed clade (Neovenatoridae, new clade) with the hitherto enigmatic theropods Chilantaisaurus, Megaraptor and the Maastrichtian Orkoraptor. This refutes the notion that allosauroid extinction pre-dated the end of the Mesozoic. Neovenatoridae includes a derived group (Megaraptora, new clade) that developed long, raptorial forelimbs, cursorial hind limbs, appendicular pneumaticity and small size, features acquired convergently in bird-line theropods. Neovenatorids thus occupied a 14-fold adult size range from 175 kg (Fukuiraptor) to approximately 2,500 kg (Chilantaisaurus). Recognition of this major allosauroid radiation has implications for Gondwanan paleobiogeography: The distribution of early Cretaceous allosauroids does not strongly support the vicariant hypothesis of southern dinosaur evolution or any particular continental breakup sequence or dispersal scenario. Instead, clades were nearly cosmopolitan in their early history, and later distributions are explained by sampling failure or local extinction.


Neovenatoridae Megaraptora Cretaceous Gondwanan biogeography Dinosaur evolution 



SLB is supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship at Columbia University. Specimen visits central to this study were funded by the Palaeontographical Society and the Jurassic Foundation. We thank numerous curators and researchers for access to specimens in their care, primarily J. Calvo, S. Chapman, S. Hutt, R. Masek, P.C. Sereno and X. Xu.

Supplementary material

114_2009_614_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3.7 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 3775 kb)


  1. Alcober O, Sereno PC, Larsson HCE, Martinez RN, Varicchio DJ (1998) A Late Cretaceous carcharodontosaurid (Theropoda: Allosauroidea) from Argentina. J Vertebr Paleontol 18:23AGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson JF, Hall-Martin A, Russell DA (1985) Long-bone circumference and weight in mammals, birds and dinosaurs. Zool J Linn Soc-Lond 207:53–61Google Scholar
  3. Azuma Y, Currie PJ (1995) A new giant dromaeosaurid from Japan. J Vertebr Paleontol 15:17AGoogle Scholar
  4. Azuma Y, Currie PJ (2000) A new carnosaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Lower Cretaceous of Japan. Can J Earth Sci 37:1735–1753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bakker RT, Siegwarth J, Kralis D, Filla J (1992) Edmarka rex, a new, gigantic theropod dinosaur from the middle Morrison Formation, Late Jurassic of the Como Bluff outcrop region. Hunteria 2:1–24Google Scholar
  6. Benson RBJ (2009) A description of Megalosaurus bucklandii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Bathonian of the United Kingdom and the relationships of Middle Jurassic theropods. Zool J Linn Soc-Lond (in press)Google Scholar
  7. Benson RBJ, Xu X (2008) The anatomy and systematic position of the theropod dinosaur Chilantaisaurus tashuikouensis Hu, 1964 from the Early Cretaceous of Alanshan, People’s Republic of China. Geol Mag 145:778–789CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brusatte SL, Sereno PC (2008) Phylogeny of Allosauroidea (Dinosauria: Theropoda): comparative analysis and resolution. J Syst Palaeontol 6:155–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brusatte SL, Benson RBJ, Hutt S (2008) The osteology of Neovenator salerii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Wealden Group (Barremian) of the Isle of Wight. Pal Soc Monogr 162:1–75Google Scholar
  10. Brusatte SL, Benson RBJ, Chure DJ, Xu X, Sullivan C, Hone DWE (2009) The first definitive carcharodontosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from Asia and the delayed ascent of tyrannosaurids. Naturwissenschaften 96:1051–1058CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Calvo JO, Porfiri JD, Veralli C, Novas FE, Poblete F (2004) Phylogenetic status of Megaraptor namunhuaiquii Novas based on a new specimen from Neuquén, Patagonia, Argentina. Ameghiniana 41:565–575Google Scholar
  12. Carrano MT (1999) What, if anything, is a cursor? Categories versus continua for determining locomotor habit in mammals and dinosaurs. J Zool 247:29–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carrano MT, Sampson SD (2008) The phylogeny of Ceratosauria (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J Syst Palaeontol 6:183–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Charig AJ, Milner AC (1997) Baryonyx walkeri, a fish-eating dinosaur from the Wealden of Surrey. Bull Nat Hist Mus Geol 53:11–70Google Scholar
  15. Currie PJ, Azuma Y (2006) New specimens, including a growth series, of Fukuiraptor (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Lower Cretaceous Kitadani Quarry of Japan. J Paleont Soc Korea 22:173–193Google Scholar
  16. Erickson GM, Makovicky PJ, Currie PJ, Norrell MA, Yerby SA, Brochu CA (2004) Gigantism and comparative life-history parameters of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. Nature 430:772–775CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gauthier JA (1986) Saurischian monophyly and the origin of birds. Mem Calif Acad Sci 8:1–55Google Scholar
  18. Harris JD (1998) Reanalysis of Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, its phylogenetic status, and implications, based on a new specimen. New Mex Mus Nat Hist Sci Bull 13:1–75Google Scholar
  19. Hocknull SA, White MA, Tischler TR, Cook AG, Calleja ND, Sloan T, Elliott DA (2009) New mid-Cretaceous (latest Albian) dinosaurs from Winton, Queensland, Australia. PLoS ONE 4(7):1–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holtz TR Jr (1995) The arctometatarsalian pes, an unusual structure of the metatarsus of Cretaceous Theropoda (Dinosauria: Saurischia). J Vertebr Paleontol 14:480–519Google Scholar
  21. Holtz TR Jr, Molnar RE, Currie PJ (2004) Basal Tetanurae. In: Weishampel DB, Dodson P, Osmólska H (eds) The Dinosauria, 2nd edn. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 71–110Google Scholar
  22. Hu SY (1964) Carnosaurian remains from Alashan, Inner Mongolia. Vertebrat PalAsiat 8:42–63 In Chinese, with English summaryGoogle Scholar
  23. Hutt S, Martill DM, Barker MJ (1996) The first European allosaurid dinosaur (Lower Cretaceous, Wealden Group, England). Neues Jahrb Geol Pal M 1996:635–644Google Scholar
  24. Marsh OC (1878) Principal characters of American Jurassic dinosaurs. Part 1. Am J Sci (series 3) 16:411–416Google Scholar
  25. Marsh OC (1881) Classification of the Dinosauria. Am J Sci (series C) 23:241–244Google Scholar
  26. Molnar RE, Flannery TF, Rich THV (1981) An allosaurid theropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Victoria, Australia. Alcheringa 5:141–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Naish D, Hutt S, Martill DM (2001) Saurischian dinosaurs 2: theropods. Palaeontol Assoc Field Guides Foss 10:242–309Google Scholar
  28. Novas FE (1998) Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, gen. et sp. nov., a large-clawed, Late Cretaceous theropod from Patagonia. J Vertebr Paleontol 18:4–9Google Scholar
  29. Novas FE, Ezcurra MD, Lecuona A (2008) Orkoraptor burkei nov. gen. et sp., a large theropod from the Maastrichtian Pari Aike Formation, Southern Patagonia, Argentina. Cretaceous Res 29:468–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Padian K, Chiappe LM (1998) The origin and early evolution of birds. Biol Rev 73:1–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rauhut OWM (2003) The interrelationships and evolution of basal theropod dinosaurs. Spec Pap Palaeontol 69:1–213Google Scholar
  32. Russell DA (1972) Ostrich dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of western Canada. Can J Earth Sci 9:375–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sampson SD, Krause DW (2007) Majungasaurus crenatissimus (Theropoda: Abelisauridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Soc Vertebr Paleontol Mem 8:1–184Google Scholar
  34. Sereno PC (1999) The evolution of dinosaurs. Science 284:2137–2147CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Sereno PC, Martinez RN, Wilson JA, Varicchio DJ, Alcober OA, Larsson HCE (2008) Evidence for avian intrathoracic air sacs in a new predatory dinosaur from Argentina. PLoS ONE 3(9):1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith ND, Makovicky PJ, Hammer WR, Currie PJ (2007) Osteology of Cryolophosaurus ellioti from the Early Jurassic of Antarctica and implications for early theropod evolution. Zool J Linn Soc-Lond 151:377–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith ND, Makovicky PJ, Agnolin FL, Ezcurra MD, Pais D, Salisbury SW (2008) A Megaraptor-like theropod (Dinosauria: Tetanurae) in Australia; support for faunal exchange across eastern and western Gondwana in the mid-Cretaceous. P Roy Soc B-Biol Sci 275:2085–2093CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Turner AH, Smith ND, Callery JA (2009) Gauging the effects of sampling failure in biogeographical analysis. J Biogeogr 36:612–625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wu X-C, Currie PJ, Dong Z, Pan S, Wang T (2009) A new theropod dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Lufeng, Yunnan, China. Acta Geol Sin-Engl 83:9–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger B. J. Benson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew T. Carrano
    • 2
  • Stephen L. Brusatte
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of PaleobiologySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Division of PaleontologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations