An Ultimate Guide to the Dakotaraptor: Dakota’s Thief

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 23rd September 2023

Name Meaning“Thief of Dakota”Height1.8 meters (6 feet)
PronunciationDuh-koh-tuh-rap-torLength5.5–6 meters (18–20 feet)
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight220–350 kg (485–772 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Saurischia & TheropodaLocationUSA (North America)

Dakotaraptor Pictures

Dakoraptor | Warpaintcobra via iStock

The Dakotaraptor

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Dakotaraptor Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Dakotaraptor Concept

The dromaeosaurids are a family of feathered theropod dinosaurs popularly referred to as raptors. 

The most popular member of this family is the Velociraptor, famous from the Jurassic Park movies. 

Most dromaeosaurid dinosaurs were small to medium-sized. But a few of them grew significantly larger than the rest. 

One of the raptors on the larger end of the scale was the Dakotaraptor

Discovered in South Dakota in 2005 and named after the location where it was found, the Dakotaraptor was one of the biggest dromaeosaurids dinosaurs ever found. 

Dakotaraptor isolated on white background
Dakotaraptor isolated on white background | Vac1 via iStock

Only the Utahraptor beats this dinosaur within the raptor family. 

It lived in western North America till the very end of the Mesozoic Era, meaning it shared the same ecosystem with famous dinosaurs like the T-rex and Triceratops

Unfortunately, only one individual fossil of this dinosaur has been discovered so far, leaving us with limited information about what it looked like and how it lived.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the things we do know about one of North America’s biggest raptors. 

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Physical Characteristics

Dakotaraptor was a carnivorous dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived in South Dakota
Dakotaraptor was a carnivorous dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived in South Dakota | CoreyFord via iStock

Dakotaraptor was a relatively large dinosaur, especially when compared with some of its relatives.

Most dromaeosaurid dinosaurs clocked just under two meters (6.5 feet) in length. 

Only a few genera reached lengths of more than two meters, and Dakotaraptor was one of the biggest in that category. 

Estimates of this dinosaur’s length put it between 4.35 and six meters (14.3–19.7 feet), with a weight of about 220 to 350 kilograms (485–772 pounds). 

Based on this size, it was one of the largest known dromaeosaurids ever found. 

Despite being bigger than usual, Dakotaraptor still had a typical dromaeosaurid build. 

It had a sleek body with long slender legs that were well-adapted for speed. 

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Dakotaraptor Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Dakotaraptor Size Comparison Chart

This dinosaur was around the same size as the Utahraptor but not as heavily built. 

Instead, the Dakotaraptor looked more like the smaller dromaeosaurids with a springy, lightweight build. 

Like those of its relatives, the entire body of the Dakotaraptor was covered in feathers, similar to modern birds. 

Their feathers provided insulation and possibly aided in display or camouflage.

When stretched out, the wings of the Dakotaraptor may have reached lengths of up to three feet. 

Their forearm also had quill knobs, which is an attachment for wing feathers seen in modern birds. 

Dakotaraptor with iridescent feathers
Dakotaraptor with iridescent feathers | Roger Harris via GettyImages

The Dakatoraptor’s quill knobs were quite big, which suggests that their feathers were large and advanced. 

The skull of the Dakotaraptor was elongated and narrow, featuring a pointed snout. 

The mouth was filled with sharp, serrated teeth that were well-suited for tearing through flesh. 

One of the most distinctive features of this dinosaur was the large, sickle-shaped claws on its second toes. 

These claws were highly specialized and were likely used for capturing and immobilizing prey. 

The claws measured around 25 centimeters (10 inches) in length, the largest of any known dromaeosaurid.

Habitat and Distribution

Dakotaraptor lived in western North America towards the end of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 66 million years ago. 

The first and only fossil of this dinosaur found so far was discovered in the famous Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota, United States. 

Paleontologists think the range of this dinosaur was restricted to this part of North America. 

During the Late Cretaceous, the area where the Dakotaraptor lived had a warm and temperate climate with seasonal variations. 

It was located along the eastern continental margin of the Western Interior Seaway. 

The area was low-lying and was characterized by a combination of floodplains, swamps, wetlands, and forest habitats. 

The coastal plain was probably covered in dense vegetation, which would have attracted various herbivores that served as prey for the Dakotaraptor and other carnivores in the area. 

Behavior and Diet

Skeletal structure of Dakotaraptor in Dinosaur Resource Center, Colorado
Skeletal structure of Dakotaraptor in Dinosaur Resource Center, Colorado | ケラトプスユウタ via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Based on the skeletal structure of the Dakotaraptor, experts think it was an active and agile predator similar to the smaller dromaeosaurids. 

It was bipedal, with long and slender legs that allowed it to cover a lot of ground quickly. 

Analysis shows that the lower legs of this dinosaur were longer than its upper leg, which would have given it a significantly longer stride than other dromaeosaurids. 

The fact that this dinosaur’s bones were pneumatized ‬(meaning they had air spaces within them) would have made it lightweight and helped with agility too.

Dakotaraptor had wings, but like its other relatives, it was flightless. 

Experts have always considered raptors to be intelligent predators that formed packs or hunting groups. 

While it is difficult to determine the level of social interaction exhibited by the Dakotaraptor, it is possible that they formed such family units and small hunting groups to take down large prey. 

Dakotaraptor group hunting
Dakotaraptor group hunting | Warpaintcobra via iStock

Dakotaraptor was a carnivorous dinosaur with a diet primarily consisting of other dinosaurs and smaller animals such as reptiles and mammals within its ecosystem. 

It had sharp claws and teeth that were useful for capturing and dismembering prey.

Dakotaraptor was an active hunter that relied on its speed and agility to take down prey. 

The large sickle-shaped claws on its second toes were its most powerful weapon.

They were particularly adapted for slashing and holding down prey. 

With a length of about 24 centimeters, the claw was up to 39% of the dinosaur’s thigh bones and had a diameter of 16 centimeters (6.3 inches). 

The Dakotaraptor had the strongest slashing strength of any known member of the dromaeosaurid group.

Life Cycle

Illustration of a Dakotaraptor
Illustration of a Dakotaraptor | Sciepro via GettyImages

Dakotaraptor was most likely an oviparous animal, meaning it laid eggs to reproduce. 

After mating (which may have involved elaborate sexual display with the feathers), female Dakotaraptors laid their eggs in nests built from vegetation or other materials. 

There are speculations that raptors brooded on their eggs. 

The oviraptor, a relative of this dinosaur, may have exhibited this behavior, but there’s no direct evidence to show that the Dakotaraptor did the same or exhibited other forms of parental care after laying their eggs. 

After incubation, the hatchlings would have emerged from the eggs as relatively independent young dinosaurs but still vulnerable. 

They may have required some level of parental care or protection until they were capable of fending for themselves. 

Dakotaraptor hatchlings likely underwent rapid growth during their early years, reaching adult size quickly. 

Evolution and History

Dakotaraptor dinosaur, side view on black background
Dakotaraptor dinosaur, side view on black background | Robert Fabiani via GettyImages

Dakotaraptor belongs to the group of dinosaurs known as dromaeosaurids, a family of small to medium-sized dinosaurs that flourished during the Cretaceous Period. 

Members of this family are popular for their bird-like appearance, which has prompted speculations that they were the ancestors of modern birds or probably descended from ancestors that could fly.

Experts think the latter scenario is more likely, with the dromaeosaurids evolving from small dinosaurian ancestors similar to the Archaeopteryx that were capable of flying or gliding. 

However, as they evolved into bigger sizes, this group of dinosaurs lost this ability to fly, a phenomenon referred to as secondary flightlessness and is seen in modern flightless birds like the Ostrich.

As far as Dakotaraptor and other large dromaeosaurids of the Late Cretaceous Period were concerned, the ability to fly was completely lost by the time they evolved.

They still had quill feathers and were capable of moving swiftly, but experts think they were simply too big, and their arms were too small to sustain the lift needed for flight. 

Interactions With Other Species

Dakotaraptor fossil
Dakotaraptor fossil | Kylie Ruble/Robert DePalma via PhysicsOrg

The only known fossil of the Dakotaraptor is from the Hell Creek Formation.

It is the first medium-sized predator known from that region of western North America and was an intermediate predator between the much bigger Tyrannosaurus and the smaller Acheroraptor. 

As such, it occupied a mid-range ecological niche as a pursuit predator capable of chasing and killing large prey animals within the ecosystem. 

Experts also think they formed packs that would give them a better chance against larger herbivores compared to sub-adult Tyrannosaurus individuals that probably hunted alone. 

Some of the herbivores known from this region include Triceratops, Ornithomimus, Edmontosaurus, and Pachycephalosaurus

Based on available evidence, the Tyrannosaurus seems to be the more abundant and better-established predator of these two, but this can be attributed to the poor preservation state of this dinosaur’s fossils. 

Dakotaraptor typically occupied upland environments, while Tyrannosaurus lived in wet lowland regions. 

Dakotaraptor dinosaur in upland environment
Dakotaraptor dinosaur in an upland environment | Roger Harris via GettyImages

This means encounters between these two dominant dinosaur groups would have been rare.

But occasional run-ins and faceoffs between them while competing for prey and other resources aren’t unlikely. 

Cultural Significance

Although Dakotaraptor has not achieved the same level of popularity and cultural prominence as the Velociraptor (which is arguably the most well-known raptor), it still holds considerable interest to paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts. 

Dakotaraptor’s discovery sheds some light on the diversity that existed within the dromaeosaurid dinosaur family. 

Generally, smaller-sized members of this family were more common, and supersized versions like the Utahraptor were considered exceptional. 

The discovery of an equally large-sized member of the family like the Dakotaraptor suggests that bigger dromaeosaurids may have been more common than scientists initially thought. 

Dakotaraptor dinosaur in the jungle
Dakotaraptor dinosaur in the jungle | Roger Harris via GettyImages

This dinosaur also changes the initial perception of the ecological composition of the Hell’s Creek Formation, which is one of the most well-known dinosaur fossil sites in North America. 

Before the discovery of the Dakotaraptor, the T-rex was the only large predator from this region of the continent. 

While the Dakotaraptor isn’t big enough to topple the Tyrannosaurus’ reign as North America’s tyrant ruler, it opens the door to the possibility that the T-rex wasn’t the only apex predator around (especially in that region of North America), and there might have been others as well. 

Future finds may shed some light on this and other interesting questions raised by the discovery of this dinosaur. 


Dakotaraptor was a relatively large bipedal dinosaur that lived in western North America during the Late Cretaceous Period. 

It lived alongside the famous T-rex and Triceratops in one of North America’s most famous dinosaur fossil sites (the Hell’s Creek formation). 

One of the most distinct qualities of this dinosaur was its relatively large size. 

Unlike most of its close relatives that were less than two meters in length, this dinosaur reached lengths of up to six meters (19.7 feet), meaning it was one of the largest dinosaurs in the dromaeosaurid family.

It was also one of the largest predators that lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous Period. Dakotaraptor had long claws and razor-sharp teeth for slashing and tearing prey apart. 

Dakotaraptor was also quite agile and may have been capable of taking down medium to large-sized prey. 

Due to the fragmentary nature of the Dakotaraptor’s remains, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the dinosaur, especially about its massive size and its place in the Late Cretaceous ecosystem of the Hells Creek formation. 

Only further studies and future fossil discoveries will answer these questions conclusively. 


Who discovered Dakotaraptor

The first Dakotaraptor fossils were discovered by paleontologist Robert DePalma in 2005. 

What time period did Dakotaraptor live in?

Dakotaraptor lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, approximately 66 million years ago. This places it towards the end of the Mesozoic Era, just before the mass extinction event that wiped out most dinosaurs.

Which was bigger, Utahraptor or Dakotaraptor?

The Utahraptor was bigger than the Dakotaraptor. It reached lengths of up to 23ft while the Dakotaraptor was about 20 ft which is still quite big by dromaeosaurid standards. 

What did Dakotaraptor prey on?

Dakotaraptor was a carnivorous dinosaur whose diet would have primarily consisted of other dinosaurs, mammals, and reptiles. Some possible prey for this dinosaur include Triceratops, Ankylosaurus,‭ ‬Pachycephalosaurus, and Edmontosaurus.


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