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The largest meat-eating dinosaur ever discovered in Australia had sickle-shaped claws the size of chef's knives, a daunting feature that likely made up for its fairly delicate jaws and small teeth, a new study finds.
The dinosaur's 10-inch-long claws likely helped it hunt, said study lead researcher Phil Bell, a lecturer of paleontology at the University of New England in Australia.
"They didn't have skulls like T. rex, which could crush bones with their incredible bite," Bell told Live Science. "Instead, they probably used their hands and massive claws — a bit like a raptor — to bring down their prey."
The newfound claw-wielding dinosaur lived about 110 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous, and likely measured about 20 feet long. Miners discovered and excavated the partial skeleton in the 1990s in the opal fields near the town of Lightning Ridge, located in New South Wales in eastern Australia. The fossils, most of them a bluish hue, thanks to the opals, were donated to the Australian Opal Centre in 2005, and remained on display until Bell and his colleagues decided to study them.
The findings were published earlier this month in the journal Gondwana Research.
The finding is the second most-complete skeleton of a theropod (a group of bipedal, mostly meat-eating dinosaurs) from Australia, Bell said.
The researchers chose not to name the new species just yet — primarily because the skeleton is incomplete — but are calling it "lightning claw" for now in honor of its location and impressively sized claws.
Scientists are sure of one thing: Lightning claw is a megaraptorid, an enigmatic group of theropod dinosaurs that sported long claws and lived on the southern supercontinent Gondwana.
The finding provides clues about the origin of megaraptorids. Lightning claw predates the oldest known megaraptorid found in Australia (Australovenator) by 10 million years. Moreover, Australia is largely known as a fossil "dark continent" because it has divulged few dinosaur fossils compared to the other continents, with the exception of Antarctica.
This is a condensed version of an article that appeared on Live Science. Read the original story here. Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.
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