Based on the fossil described in a recent study in PLOS ONE, researchers believe that Dracoraptor hanigani grew to be about 10 feet long. The juvenile studied by researchers would have stood just over two feet tall, which would make it seem pretty puny when pitted against a 13-foot-tall T. rex.
Dracoraptor hanigani lived at a time when dinosaurs were just starting to diversify again after a major extinction event. The Triassic period ended when about half of the species alive on Earth – including many dominant reptile predators – went extinct. The following period, the Jurassic, was very kind to dinosaurs, and many credit the extinction event with their eventual dominance (just as we now credit the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs for allowing our own lineage to flourish). But for the Jurassic to become the age of the dinos, some of the species that survived that extinction had to make it big.
Dracoraptor hanigani may be one of the oldest Jurassic dinosaurs ever found, giving scientists a glimpse of the kinds of species that survived from the Triassic. As time passed, these dinosaurs would evolve to fill the niches left behind by other animals.
"About 200 million years later, the [newfound] dinosaur looks a little generic, but at the time in the early Jurassic, it was quite new and different," study co-author Steven Vidovic of the University of Portsmouth told Live Science. "So the reason it might look a bit generic in hindsight is that loads of later dinosaurs repeated the winning formula."