Everything You Know About Velociraptors Is A Lie

VelociraptorToday I found out everything you probably think you know about Velociraptors is a lie.

Now to be fair, everything I “knew” about Velociraptors came from the Jurassic Park movies and so I shouldn’t really be surprised it was all wrong.  So if, like me, you thought that Velociraptors were slightly bigger than a human; reptilian looking;  hunted in packs; were found in what is now the United States; and were ridiculously intelligent.  Well, literally none of that is true.

Velociraptors were actually only about the size of a domesticated Turkey, being only about 3 feet tall and 6 feet long, with most of the length coming from the tail and weighing in at around 20-30 pounds full grown.  More than that, they also looked somewhat like a Turkey as well, but with a long tail obviously.  It turns out, Velociraptors were very similar to birds in a lot of ways.  They had hollow bones, feathers, built nests for their eggs, and are thought to have behaved very similar to birds.

As Mark Norell, curator of fossil reptiles, amphibians, and birds at the American Museum of Natural History, stated, “The more that we learn about these animals the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like Velociraptor. Both have wishbones; brooded their nests; possess hollow bones; and were covered in feathers. If animals like Velociraptor were alive today, our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds.”

More than that, there has never been one bit of evidence that suggested that Velociraptors hunted in packs.  In fact, every fossil found of Velociraptors has seemed to indicate they were solitary creatures.  There was even one fossil where the Velociraptor was in the act of trying to kill a Protoceratops, which was a pig sized dinosaur, when a sandstorm came up and buried them both while they were still fighting one another.  If they hunted in packs, there should have been more Velociraptors at that find, particularly given the size of the Protoceratops relative to the Velociraptor.

Next up, the Velociraptors were not found in the United States, as the films suggested: where the paleontologists in the film dug up the Velociraptor skeleton in Montana.  In fact, they have only been found in Central Asia around Mongolia.

Were they intelligent?  Well, for a dinosaur, it is thought they were somewhat intelligent due to their brain size relative to body size.  But it turns out, that’s basically just saying they were slightly more intelligent than a board with a nail in it.  For reference, the dinosaur that is thought to have been the smartest of all dinosaurs was the Troodon; it is thought to have been around as smart as a primitive opossum.   So there goes the whole Philosraptor thing out the window.  The deepest thoughts a Velociraptor ever thought were probably on the level of the Seagulls in Finding Nemo. “Mine?”   Hardly the “smarter than dolphins, whales, and some primates” that Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park III suggests.

Actually, if you’ve ever raised domestic Turkey’s, which I have and don’t recommend, the “just slightly more intelligent than a board with a nail in it”, is about the domestic Turkey’s level of intelligence too.  I’m beginning to think Velociraptors were nothing but domestic Turkeys with slightly different bone structure. 😉

So what were they thinking in Jurassic Park?  Well basically, they modeled what they called the “Velociraptor” in the movie after the Deinonychus.  The Deinonychus were also raptors, but were significantly bigger than the Velociraptors, coming in at about 12 feet long, about 6 feet tall, and weighing about 150 pounds full grown.   Pretty much picture the “Velociraptor” in Jurassic Park and you get a pretty good idea of what the Deinonychus were thought to have looked like (although there still is some debate over whether they too had feathers, with many researchers leaning that way; so really, picture the “Velociraptor” in Jurassic Park and add feathers and you get the Deinonychus).

The Deinonychus also were thought to have occasionally hunted in packs to bring down larger prey and were thought to have been very fast.  Their habitat was in the forests of North America.  Now on the intelligence bit, they too weren’t really thought to have been very intelligent.  Although, clearly they were at least smart enough to work together to bring down larger prey when the need arose.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Despite the feathers and the fact that certain of the Velociraptors’ closely related ancestors could fly, the Velociraptors are thought to have not had the ability to fly due to their weight proportional to their short forelimbs.  A full grown Velociraptor weighed in at about 20-30 pounds.  Once again, very similar to a Turkey.  Though of course, wild Turkeys are typically a bit lighter than that and can fly in short bursts and are great gliders over short distances.  But domesticated turkeys weigh in closer to the Velociraptors projected weight and cannot fly.
  • Much like Chickens and Turkeys, Velociraptors also had similar looking claws, but in the Velociraptors’ case with the middle claw being retractable.  It could extend out to about 3 inches for stabbing and slashing and was the Velociraptors’ primary weapon.  This is similar to the spurs on a rooster or male turkey.
  • Velociraptors were also probably warm-blooded.  They are thought to have had about the same metabolism as the Kiwi, which is similar in anatomy, feather type, bone structure, and nasal passages; the latter of which is usually a good indicator of metabolism in animals.  Also, cold blooded animals typically won’t pursue prey; they prefer to lie in wait until the prey comes to them.  Velociraptors clearly were built for pursuing prey.
  • The name “Velociraptor” comes from the Latin “velox”, meaning “swift”, and “raptor”, meaning “robber” or “plunderer”.  The name was chosen by paleontologist Henry F. Osborn in 1924, after he discovered the fossil in Mongolia that same year.
  • It has long been suspected that Velociraptors had feathers, but the evidence proving this has only come very recently.  That evidence came from a discovery in September of 2007 of a forelimb fossil of a Velociraptor that had quill knobs, similar to those found on birds.
  • Only about a dozen Velociraptor fossils have been found to date.
  • If you ever want to raise domestic turkeys, one pro-tip is that you need to make their food and water dishes shiny.  If you don’t, they aren’t typically smart enough to eat and drink, particularly when they are young.  They are pretty obsessed with shiny objects though.  So much so that if the sun glints of a neighboring turkey’s eyes, the other turkey will very likely try to peck their neighbors eye out to get the shiny object.  This can be used to your advantage though as they mature.  If you go in their cage when the males are mature, they will likely try to attack you.  If there was only one, this isn’t a big deal, though they do have very long and sharp spurs they can rip into you with and can weigh upwards of 45 pounds.  However, when there is a bunch of them coming at you like they are going to attack, this can be a slightly more dangerous proposition.  Their spurs are quite capable of ripping open your insides.  But never fear, just bring a very shiny object in with you.  They will instantly get distracted and forget all about attacking you.  This works pretty much every time.  My object of choice was a knock-off samurai sword.  That way, if the shiny sword didn’t distract them and make them forget about attacking me, I was well protected. 🙂
  • Another pro-tip: don’t raise turkeys or really any type of poultry.  Seriously, just don’t.
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  • Jarm

    Paleontologists announced, shortly after the first Jurassic Park movie, that they “have found Spielberg’s raptor.” It’s called the Utahraptor. It’s wiki article is here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utahraptor). It fits the size (kinda… it is a little big) and other features (but believed to be feathered like other Dromaeosauridaes) of the raptor in the movies. Plus it was found in , you guessed it, Utah (which is right around the corner to Montana, geographically speaking). I apologize for the broken sentences but I wanted to have it written like I was thinking it… if that makes sense.

  • hilllie

    Which raises the question: why didn’t the Jurassic Park creators name them Deinonychus? Is it because “velociraptors” sounds cooler?

    • Alex

      Absolutely… “oh watch out for those smart and ferocious Deinonychus…” – that doesn’t sound as mean as “Velociraptors” (which also speaks out “speed”)

  • Philosoraptor
  • Jarm

    Just been thinking of this… If they had wings that allowed them to “fly” like chickens, it means that it would boost them off from the ground. That would help them to strike at a prey’s vital areas that are put up high as a defense mechanism (eyes, throat, brain, on top of their back, etc). That would allow them to take down larger prey due to being able to precisely strike at vitals…

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  • Keith

    It seems like one problem with saying Deinonychus is just like Velociraptor in JP is that while Deinonychus was 6 ft tall he still only weighed about 150 lbs. Basically he’s got the exact same height and weight I’ve got, but the movie made the Velociraptors look muscular and like they weighed about 300-400 lbs. So even then the movie is exaggerating its size. I don’t know I think an emu is still way scarier than that dumb thing.

  • J.I. Penick

    Actually, Jurassic Park isn’t as bad about these critters as you think (Especially the book). Crichton wrote Jurassic Park in 1990, shortly after the 1988 publication of Gregory Paul’s influential book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. Paul was a major proponent of consolidating genera: he felt, for example, that rather than having Tyrannosaurus rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, and Daspletosaurus torosus the species rex, bataar, and torosus should all have been in the genus Tyrannosaurus. With me so far?

    Another proposed realignment was the species antirrhopus from the genus Deinonychus into the genus Velociraptor. Crichton bought into this when writing his books; IIRC the dinosaurs constantly referred to as “raptors” in the books were identified as “Velociraptor antirrhopus”, meaning they are actually what is currently known scientifically as Deinonychus. Deinonychus antirrhopus WAS found in North America (Montana), was much larger than a turkey (11 feet, there’s a graphical comparison on the genus’ Wikipedia page), and does have meaningful evidence of pack hunting behavior (much of which you noted above). So, Crichton (and subsequently the movies that took their cues from him) wasn’t getting two dinosaurs confused; he was disagreeing with mainstream terminology.

    The feathers mistake is quite excusable; it wasn’t known when the books were written. The intelligence, on the other hand, was a very speculative invention of fiction done to increase suspense and drive the plots.

    Hope this also answers your question as well, hillie.

  • garbarble

    No, terrible sorry, Philosoraptor is not ‘out the window’. It doesn’t exist because velociraptors are perceived as highly intelligent, it exists because it is an amazing pun. The intelligence thing might have been gravy to you, but it’s the same as how the fact that their curved claws make for a good chin-touching pose.

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  • Dylan Maravilla

    um for teh record the deinonychus was still smaller than a human and the utahraptor is in fact much closer to those that appeared in JP

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  • Mike

    Grant said that Raptors has more in common with a bird then a lizard, the kid even called it a giant turkey, and Grant did too after the kid, What was in the park was to quote Grant from part three were “genetic monsters”

  • Vima

    I knew most of that since childhood. I learned about the Deinonychus like a few months after seeing Jurassic Park (the first one) in the cinemas when it first came out. The pack think I didn’t know about though. So that’s interesting. But then again, seeing that Deinonychus probably was a pack animal, and the “velociraptors” in the movie were based on them, it’s understandable. I know they chose the “Velociraptor” name because that name sounded cooler, was more memorable and would be easier to pronounce for people than Deinonychus.

    About their intelligence. I think we’ll never really know, since they’re not alive. But birds are at least smart enough to survive in the wild, and predators tend to be more intelligent than herbivores and wild animals are smarter than tame animals. So, to compare them to a turkey is not very scientific of you in my opinion. They probably weren’t as smart as in the movies though. On the other hand, crows are very smart, and they’re tiny birds too. Then, remember also that turkeys are domesticated animals that have been bred for their meat, not their intelligence for a very long time. I think their wild ancestors might have been brighter. Just saying.

    • Birds are extremely smart. Read some of the research they have done on a certain species of Crows. They have the ability to solve complex problems…..read one test:
      They poop food in a tube filled with water. They put peddles near the tube. on top of the tube was a piece of food floating. The crows would actually take the peddles, throw them in the water to make it raise and eat the food. That’s pretty smart, smarter then same guys in my unit if you ask me.

      • Andy

        1) Poop is not food!
        2) Why peddles is there some kind of sale involved?
        3) The military has never been known for its intelligence

  • Jeremy

    Actually, Velociraptor is a genus. Not a species. Some Velociraptors were the size of a domesticated turkey but some were larger. Utahraptor, for instance, was approximately 9 feet tall. And look at this page. It about dinosaur intelligence.

  • Commentator 2000

    What if, the actual truth is that paleontologists were wrong? I mean like what IF (if) T.rex, spinos, raptors, carnivorous dinos you name it are herbivores? And what if triceratops were carnivores? We don’t know… DUN DUN DUN

  • William Freeman

    This is a useless debate as no one will ever know exactly how intelligent any extinct dinosaur was. We can obtain a glimpse of their intelligence by the approximate size of their brain case was, and as a general rule I believe that the feathered raptors (birds) were intelligent and smarter than most of the other dinosaurs, but to what extant, I’ll (or anyone else) will ever know exactly how smart they were. They could have certainly hunted in packs like some modern Hawks, but maybe not, we just do not know for certain.

    I hope Jack Horner of Montana can develop a dinosaur/type feathered raptor animal out of a chicken, but then it will still only be a mutated dinosaur/chicken: but still a dinosaur-and still a chicken, although a modernized and mutated one. The Velociraptors were an exciting class of dinosaurs and one that I hope that Horner and other scientists can revive, or at least come close.

  • Eddie

    If evolution is to push foward and make a species more dominant (take humans for instance) why would dinosaurs evolve backwards into tiny harmless chickens? IT IS JUST STUPID TO TO EVEN THINK THAT. The evidence is whatever we want it to be for the sake of aurguing. BUT COMMON SENSE TELLS US ANOTHER STORY. Dinosaurs became extinct 65,000,000 years ago after a global extinction level event and the few dinosaurs that survived can found today in creatures that have erroneously been classified as birds with the best example being the ostrich, among other FLIGHTLESS BIRDS of the world. HINT: IF IT DOES’NT FLY IT’S NOT A BIRD… ;-D

    • Pangaea

      Eddie, I think your understanding of evolution is a bit…incomplete. Evolution ISN’T about making species more “dominant” (faster, stronger, smarter, etc.); in fact, there’s no real direction or forethought involved whatsoever. The very reason species become extinct is because evolution doesn’t prepare them for eventualities like a Mt.-Everest-sized meteorite striking Earth at 58 times the speed of sound, or the sudden introduction of voracious alien predators into their habitat. Fish never left the water because evolution was trying to create a species that could rule the land; they just discovered there were lots of delicious insects up there, and if you had stronger-than-average fin muscles that allowed you to wriggle just a little further out onto the terrestrial buffet table, there’s a good chance you’d end up a bit more well-fed than your fellows, with energy to spare when the spawning season rolls around.

      If it helps, think of the natural world as an economy, where the currency is calories/energy and the life goal of every individual organism is to amass enough calories to produce as many successful offspring as possible. Adaptations are like business strategies, and sometimes, an organism’s business plan is slightly tweaked via a random mutation. Most of these tweaks are detrimental; others make no difference; but some give the organism a small advantage over its business competitors. Over thousands of generations, these minor advantageous changes add up, until the result is a new species. Evolution is simply the term we use to describe this process of change.

      It’s worth noting that there are many factors involved in evolution, including plain old luck: a drought might negate the aquatic advantage of having slightly webbed toes, or your embarrassing habit of emitting an unpleasant odor when nervous might save your skin if a predator decides to take your sweeter-smelling rival instead of you. You could be the biggest, strongest, smartest, most successful hunter in your clan, but if you get gouged in the gonads by a flailing warthog before you’ve had the chance to have kids, those impressive genes of yours aren’t getting passed on, ever. Basically, there’s a virtually infinite variety of options for getting ahead in the business of life, but none of them is guaranteed success. This is the reason for Earth’s vast diversity of life forms (past and present), and also why—from a human perspective— evolution often appears illogical in hindsight.

      For example, the kiwi—a bird whose wings are so tiny as to be invisible beneath its shaggy coat of feathers—had ancestors that could fly, but millions of years ago, when these birds arrived in New Zealand, they found a new home with plenty of food on the ground and no predators to fly away from. In this environment, a bird with weaker wings could actually be MORE successful than a bird with strong wings, because instead of spending a large portion of its energy growing powerful flight muscles that it would never need to use anyway, it could invest that energy in growing a larger, stronger body or laying sturdier, well-nourished eggs. Hence, today’s kiwis are nearly wingless, but with powerful legs that allow for fast running, digging, and tearing open logs, and eggs that may weigh one-fifth of the mother’s weight and hatch into chicks that are so well-developed that the parents don’t even need to feed them. It’s still a bird (and a dinosaur, too, for that matter), but one that’s evolved a body and lifestyle dramatically different from its ancestors.

  • PigachuThePorkemon

    The paleontologists are partly to blame. I mean, they gave the coolest-sounding name to the smallest member in the raptor family! Oh sure, there actually were raptors the size of the ones in Jurassic Park. But honestly, “Velociraptor” just rolls off the tongue far more nicely than “Dromaeosaurus”, “Achillobator” or “Deinonychus”.

    And by the way, why is it a bad thing for Velociraptor to not hunt in packs. While it does mean Velociraptor was not as intelligent as we think, it still means it takes on prey three times its size ALL ON ITS OWN. Basically, that is the equivalent of a chicken attacking a Doberman Pinscher. That stuff takes balls, man. Not brains, BALLS.

  • They just discovered the extremely large and fully feathered Dakotaraptor in the Hell Creek Formation….makes Utah Raptor look like a roadrunner! Check out Trey the Explainers excellent video on YT

  • Lino

    Turkeys are in fact intelligent. Chicken are intelligent. Just as you were wrong about Velociraptor you are wrong about Turkeys!

  • Lino

    Everything you thinkabout Turkey is a lie mr. full of false ideas and thoughts:

    “Humans,” Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has written, “seem to take a perverse pleasure in attributing stupidity to animals when it is almost entirely a question of human ignorance.” This dictum seems especially apt with Thanksgiving arriving. No animal, after all, has been more actively dismissed for its purported stupidity than the turkey.

    The old legend about turkeys turning their gullets upward and drowning during rainstorms is reliably rehashed every November, almost as if to assuage some repressed collective doubt we have over killing 45 million maligned fowl in order to honor a tradition that, at its inception, had nothing to do with turkey.

    Turkeys are neither moronic nor prone to chronic downpour suicides. In their undomesticated state they are, as the naturalist Joe Hutto has written, remarkably attentive and intelligent creatures. Hutto carefully observed a flock of wild turkeys for many months, recounting his experiences in Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey. He became particularly attached to a bird he named Turkey Boy.

    “Each time I joined him,” Hutto wrote, “he greeted me with his happy dance, a brief joyful display of ducking and dodging, with wings outstretched and a frisky shake of the head like a dog with water in his ears.” Hutto, a longtime turkey hunter, was charmed, even reformed. The bird, he explained, “would jump at me and touch me lightly with his feet.”

    I’m well aware that most readers will deem Hutto’s account as shamelessly anthropomorphized, if not just plain silly. I’m frequently reminded of our reluctance to fundamentally rethink the way we eat and consider the possibility that animals deserve better. I recently sat at a communal table at a vegan restaurant and listened to a jovial conversation about killing chickens and deer.At a vegan restaurant (granted, in Texas). You learn, after a time, to develop a measure of perspective on such things.

    But our perspective should never omit the fact that animal scientists have documented complex patterns of turkey behavior. This is especially true when it comes to memory and geography. Wild turkeys return to the exact location of a baiting station an entire year after feeding. They scratch and sniff and circle the exact spot for that unforgettable free lunch even though the trough has been moved. Animal behaviorists agree that this return is notable. The Humane Society rightly characterizes it as “evidence of hitherto unappreciated intelligence.”

    Should you relegate this impressive example of turkey recollection to mere instinct, should you convincingly reduce it to a habitual “skill” that’s pre-programmed into the birds’ mindless genetic repertoire, think again. The emotional and social lives of turkeys (wild and domesticated) speak to an active and adaptive cognition.

    Turkeys need each other, and in more than just a safety-in-numbers sort of way. Researchers have found that when an individual turkey is removed from his flock, even in domesticity, he’ll squawk in obvious protest until reunited with his posse. Turkeys have a refined “language” of yelps and cackles. They mourn the death of a flock member and so acutely anticipate pain that domestic breeds have had epidemical heart attacks after watching their feathered mates take that fatal step towards Thanksgiving dinner. They clearly feel and appear to understand pain.

    There’s been a heated back-and-forth on this site lately over how to categorize animals with respect to our supposed right to eat them. Is a pig objectively smarter than a dog? Well, then don’t kill it. Is a pig less acculturated to human companionship than a dog? Well, then kill it. These exchanges have been more than a little thought-provoking. But ultimately they get bogged down in nuanced shades of distinction while missing the transcendent question: Are animals worthy enough creatures to deserve our ultimate respect, a respect that requires that we choose not to kill them for food we don’t need?

    I’m the first to admit that I have no hard scientific evidence as to why I think the answer is yes. But as a historian I at least recognize that history is marked by a discordant combination of radical change and ceaseless continuity. Acculturated practices—practices that seem as normalized as breathing—eventually change. Not only do they change, but contemporary human societies look back on these once entrenched behaviors and wonder how we ever allowed them to happen. But what never changes, what will always be, is that humans are, no matter how hard we try to conquer the world’s complexities, ultimately humbled by its mysteries.

    Turkeys, for those who have taken the time to look, are mysteries. All animals are. Do they anticipate and feel pain? Do they enjoy social relationships and feel the loss of companions? Do they think, remember, and conceptualize the future? We can debate these questions forever. But the fact that there’s even room for debate suggests that we should err on the side of humility. And we might begin by giving some thought to our unthinking decision to eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

  • CHRISTOPHER J DOXTATOR

    ok very old post I know but gonna leave my 2 cents anyway.

    So as most of the world should know is that Jurassic Park is based on a fictional Novel by best selling author Micheal Crichton, if you were one of the fans of the franchise who read the book before Steven Speilbergs classic hit movie adaptation hit the screens in the early 90’s, then hopefully you were able to remember that Micheal Crichton was trying to get through to you that the animals, although described by the fictional characters in original JP novel, to be Dinosaurs. These animals are nothing more then “Hybrid” monsters, very little of the original “Dino” DNA played apart in their creation “This was greatly touched open in Jurassic World”. So when read articles that say that Jurassic Park/Steven Speilberg/Hollywood lied to you… I say read the book(s) that the film was based on. The films actually stand pretty faithful to them.

    So the reason that you seen a featherless pack hunter and cry that you are not seeing a real VELOCIRAPTOR in the first movie I say Andominous Rex, meaning the reason for you deception is that the fictional geneticist in the book and films created monsters purposefully to sell to boost sales revenue.

  • Jason

    What part of Jurassic Park made you think that Velociraptors were from the United States?

  • Jason

    Sorry for the multiple comments. A follow up — what part of Jurassic Park made you think *any* of the things you listed, such as them being 6 feet tall?

    I just did some research and it seems that none of those things were supported by what was actually in the movie. Have a look at this screenshot:

    http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/jurassicpark/images/d/de/Sam-Neill-encounters-velo-001.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120702171322

    The Velociraptors in the movie were waist-tall. Wikipedia says that they were about 1.6 meters tall — about waist-tall. The movie actually had a lot of consulting experts from top universities, so I dare say it was more accurate than this article (no offense).

    About 10 years back I took a college Geology class on dinosaurs and we watched Jurassic Park at the end of it. The professor was only able to point out 1 significant inaccuracy in the entire movie.

  • Michael

    New research on bird brains shows they are packed with smaller neurons than mammalian brains, which is why tiny brained crows and parrots can show cognitive abilities equivalent to larger brained monkeys. This means that Troodon could have been the same, with intelligence equivalent to a modern wolf or large cat rather than an opossum.