A fast and fierce thief
- Name: Velociraptor
- Diet: Carnivore
- Weight: 50 kg
- Period: Upper Cretaceoua
- Found In: Mongolia and USA
The Velociraptor was a genus of fast dinosaurs that inhabited our planet during the Cretaceous period (about 73 million years ago to be precise). It is classified within the group of theropod dinosaurs dromeosaurs.
This genus would have been a fairly fast dinosaur. Most people are familiar with this dinosaur genre due to its appearance in the famous Jurassic Park movie saga. They were quite fast and above all aggressive dinosaurs as we can see in the saga.
The dimensions of this dinosaur would not have been very big. It was about 2 meters long and half a meter high and weighed only about 15 kilograms. Although this is not a problem for this predatory animal as they used to attack large prey in groups.
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The Velociraptor is one of the best known dinosaurs. His appearance in the Jurassic Park movies catapulted him to fame, albeit badly.
We all know him as one of the “bad guys”; but is he the “black sheep” of the family or does the aggressiveness of the Velociraptor come from genetics?
We see it.
This dinosaur comes from the theropod dromeosaurid family (link on internal page). The term theropod comes from Theropa which means “foot of the beast” and refers to carnivorous and bipedal dinosaurs (they were kept with two legs, not four).
In contrast, the dromeosaurids (family Dromaeosauridae, “running lizards”) refer, within the carnivores, to small to medium sized, feathered specimens.
Yes, with feathers. I know this is one of the big questions you are asking yourself, but I will tell you all about it later.
- Kingdom Animalia
- Filo Chordata
- Sauropside Class
- Superorden Dinosauria
- Order Saurischia
- Sub-order Theropoda
- Infraorden Coelurosauria
- No Maniraptor rank
- Deinonychosauria Superfamily
- Dromaeosauridea Family
- Subfamily Velociraptorinae
The Mongolian Velociraptor is named after where its remains were found, in Mongolia. Also from there, specifically from Bayan Mandahu (Inner Mongolia, in China), is the Velociraptor osmolskae.
In fact, the revelation of this new species raised new questions about its origin. The areas where these specimens have been found are not so far away and are similar, so it was not understood what could have made only some of them evolve.
There is a theory that this is the development of a group of V.mongoliensis. It is believed that in ancient times, this group could have been isolated from the others by some insurmountable natural separation.
This would be the reason that the V.osmolskae had evolved.
Were all dromeosaurs equally fierce?
Yes, it wasn’t just a matter of the Velociraptor. All the “running reptiles” were equally deadly, not to mention that their speed gave them a great added weapon.
That doesn’t mean there were any stranger specimens in the family, though. One of those cousins we’re never sure who it came from.
The Chilesaurus – the vegetarian cousin.
Although it was not made public until eleven years later, in 2004 a new type of theropod was discovered. Although not a new variant, but a very special one.
The reason for the surprise with this new discovery is that a vegetarian theropod would have been found. As we saw at the beginning, all those who knew each other were carnivores.
This distant cousin, Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, was an herbivore. The remains of its teeth and jaw make scientists confident of this. Chilesaurus only ate plants.
The new specimen has other characteristics. Instead of claws, it had short fingers. In fact, such are the peculiarities of this specimen that, according to the magazine Nature, the paleontologists responsible for the research would have nicknamed it “the dinosaur platypus”.
The remains of this dinosaur were found by a seven-year-old boy. In the middle of a tour around the Chilean Patagonia, Diego Suarez (hence the surname of our “distant cousin”), found the bones.
The Chinese cousin with feathers: the Zhenyuanlong Suni
In recent years, important discoveries have been made in China’s Liaoning Province. Findings that have already been considered part of the most revealing fossils in the history of Paleontology.
One of those fossils is our cousin, the Zhenyuanlong suni. It is a dinosaur of between one and a half and two meters high and with very short front extremities (arms). It was all covered by large feathers.
This does not mean that it could fly. Scientists say that it is impossible for it to lift its weight with such short arms. What is being investigated now is what the feathers could do.
The hypothesis is that they could be used to protect him from the cold, to cover his nests or to show off to the females.
The specimens found in Liaoning show how different types of dromeosaurids could exist. It also provides us with another piece of the puzzle of evolution, to know for sure how some dinosaurs evolved into birds.
Where and when did the Velociraptors live
These theropods lived in the second stage of the Cretaceous, in the period called Campaniense. We’re talking about a whopping 75 million years ago.
All these dinosaurs lived in Asia, specifically in Mongolia. Although, as we saw before, the Velociraptor osmolskae came from Inner Mongolia, a region belonging to China.
Who discovered this dinosaur?
The first Velociraptor fossil was found in 1922. An expedition organized by the American Museum of Natural History took a team of paleontologists to the Gobi Desert. On that excursion, a whole but damaged skull was found. One of the two claws was also found.
The president of the museum, Henry Fairfield Osborn (considered the discoverer of the Velociraptor) named this dinosaur Ovoraptor djadochtari. Various formal problems meant that this name did not prevail, leaving the name Velociraptor.
The literal translation of the name conjugates the term “swift”, with that of raptor, “thief”. Here we begin to break with the paradigm that all dinosaurs were slow, clumsy and unintelligent.
A few years later, to be more exact in 1990, a Chinese-Polish team found another specimen of Velociraptor. In 2008, studies revealed that there were differences between the jawbone and the lachrymose of the latter specimen, compared to those of V.mongoliensis. They had just discovered that they were looking at another species other than this theropod: Velociraptor osmolskae.
The “surname” of Osmolskae is in honor of the paleontologist Halszka Osmolskae who died that same year. She was known for all her work in the excavations of Mongolia.
How the Velociraptor was: characteristics
The film Jurassic Park made the ferocious Velociraptors (in the film they were called “raptors”) famous worldwide.
Were these theropods as they appeared in Steven Spielberg’s film?
Let’s see what’s true.
Actual size of the Velociraptor
In Jurassic Park these dromeosaurids were about ten feet tall. In reality, however, they weren’t nearly as tall.
The actual size of the Velociraptors is 2 meters long, by 0.5 meters high (up to the hip of any person). It weighed about 15 kilos.
As you can see it doesn’t look like what it looked like in the movie, nor what other dromeosaurids measured.
The feathers of the Velociraptors
In the film, our dinosaur was covered in scales. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Now it’s time to prove that this theropod was covered with huge feathers.
In fact, even his forearms were covered with feathers. However, it couldn’t fly. As with its Chinese cousin, the Zhenyuanlong Suni, its limbs were not large enough to take flight.
Perhaps the feathers are only the genetic memory of ancestors who were able to fly. It should not be forgotten that Velociraptors have many similarities to birds. Like them, they had hollow bones and built nests from eggs.
As we mentioned before, if feathers had a function it was probably related to attracting females or keeping them warm.
The last thing we just mentioned leads to another very interesting point. It is very likely that the Velociraptor, like the mammals, was homeothermic; that is, it was kept at a constant temperature.
This conclusion has been reached on the basis that the feathers could have the function of helping to maintain that heat.
General appearance of the Velociraptor
We have already seen that it was not very big and that it was covered with feathers, but we have not yet discovered how this dinosaur was completely.
The skull was very characteristic as it had a very elongated shape and curved upwards. It was about 25 centimetres long.
Its very sharp muzzle contained jaws composed of 28 teeth on each side. These were shaped like a saw, which helped to ensure that its prey did not escape.
A team of researchers from Yale University and Harvard University created what has been called a “chicken-dinon”.
The goal of their research was to have more data on how the dinosaurs’ snout evolved into today’s bird beak.
To do this, they located the genes that are responsible for facial development and disabled them. With this, they managed to return the snout to a more ancestral state instead of developing a beak.
The muzzle that these chickens developed is very similar to that of the Velociraptor. So we could say that they created a “Velocipollo”.
But if you want to know which part of its body was the most deadly, we have to sit down and talk about its claws.
Like other dromeosaurs, it had three curved claws in each “hand”. With the middle one being the longest. However, the most curious thing is in the hind legs.
The Velociraptor had three other toes on each foot, but the peculiarity is that it only walked on four toes, the two outer ones on each leg. The second inner toe kept it upright and was sickle-shaped (curved blade).
This lethal knife was about 65 millimeters long and used it to hunt its prey.
This theropod would throw itself at its prey by lifting one of its legs. If at first it did not manage to cut you (in the neck, not as the Jurassic Park movies show), its technique was to hook itself to you, and then to prick you with the other leg.
It is also said that the system he could use was the following.
He would rest one of his legs on the ground and use his rocking tail to propel himself. That way, he would get more momentum and have more strength to try to stick his knife.
His tail was rigid and bone shaped. This reinforcement in its vertebrae, favoured the rigidity of the tail. However, it is known that it had some horizontal flexibility. This is also not surprising as it favours its stability when running or taking a curve.
How fast did the Velociraptor
Just the fact that this dinosaur is bipedal reveals that it was very fast. But not only that, its powerful hind legs with the stability provided by its tail, made it reach up to 39 km per hour.
What the Velociraptors ate
The Velociraptors were carnivores. However, because of their small size, it was also not normal for them to attack very large prey.
Nor is there any evidence that they attacked in groups. When a team of palaeontologists finds remains, it is usually the bones of a single specimen and not of a group, so there is no record of collaboration between different specimens for hunting.
In addition to carnivores, there are studies that support that they were scavengers. In the Gobi desert, the remains of a Velociraptor were found with a very special surprise inside. In the stomach they discovered a Pterodactyl bone (a huge flying reptile).
With the wingspan we know our dromeosaurid had, it is impossible that it would have been able to hunt it. Therefore, the most likely thing is that the bone was torn from the Pterodactyl when it was already dead.
The fight of the Proteceratops versus Velociraptor
In this case, we’re not going to run any simulations about what would happen if the two dinosaurs fought. And we’re not going to, since the battle actually happened.
We’re referring to the specimen of the “fighting dinosaurs.” This is a fossil that was found in 1971 and in which you can see a Proteceratops and a Velociraptor in full battle.
It is believed that while they were fighting, a sandstorm may fall on top of the two dinosaurs leaving them buried.
The image shows how the Velociraptor below sticks its razor-claw into the Protoceratops’ throat. The Protoceratops, on the other hand, attacks the right side of the theropod with its beak.
With this finding, the scientists were able to discover that the claw was not for tearing, but for poking. This is because they found that the inside of the claw was rounded and not sharp, so it was very complicated that it could have torn the abdomen of another animal with its claw.
The intelligence of the velociraptors
In addition, the film highlights the enormous intelligence of these dinosaurs. In fact, they even claim to be more intelligent than whales, dolphins or primates.
Although it is true that they were more intelligent than other dinosaurs, it is very unlikely that they were more intelligent than these animals.