Today I found out everything I thought I knew about Velociraptors was 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.
- 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.
Expand for References: