Old Earth Ministries Online Dinosaur Curriculum

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Lesson 36 - Velociraptor

Velociraptor was a genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that existed approximately 75 to 71 million years ago during the later part of the Cretaceous Period. Two species are currently recognized, although others have been assigned in the past. The type species is V. mongoliensis; fossils of this species have been discovered in Mongolia. A second species, V. osmolskae, was named in 2008 for skull material from Inner Mongolia, China.


Quick Facts


Length:  6.8 Ft

Height:  1.6 Ft at hip

Weight:   33 lbs

Date Range:   75 - 71 Ma, Cretaceous Period



Mounted cast at Wyoming Dinosaur Center  (Picture Source)

Smaller than other dromaeosaurids like Deinonychus and Achillobator, the turkey-sized Velociraptor nevertheless shared many of the same anatomical features. It was a bipedal, feathered carnivore with a long, stiffened tail and an enlarged sickle-shaped claw on each hindfoot, which is thought to have been used to kill its prey. Velociraptor can be distinguished from other dromaeosaurids by its long and low skull, with an upturned snout.

Velociraptor (commonly shortened to 'raptor') is one of the dinosaur genera most familiar
VIDEO - Dinosaur Planet - White Tip's Journey (48 min).
 to the general public due to its prominent role in the Jurassic Park motion picture series. In the films it was shown with anatomical inaccuracies, including being much larger than it was in reality and without feathers. It is also well known to paleontologists, with over a dozen described fossil skeletons—the most of any dromaeosaurid. One particularly famous specimen preserves a Velociraptor locked in combat with a Protoceratops.

Velociraptor was a mid-sized dromaeosaurid, with adults measuring up to 2.07 m (6.8 ft) long, 0.5 m (1.6 ft) high at the hip, and weighing up to 15 kg (33 lb). The skull, which grew up to 25 cm (9.8 in) long, was uniquely up-curved, concave on the upper surface and convex on the lower. The jaws were lined
Velociraptor scale
Picture Source
 with 26–28 widely spaced teeth on each side, each more strongly serrated on the back edge than the front—possibly an adaptation that improved its ability to catch and hold fast-moving prey.

Velociraptor, like other dromaeosaurids, had a large manus ('hand') with three strongly curved claws, which were similar in construction and flexibility to the wing bones of modern birds. The second digit was the longest of the three digits present, while the first was shortest. The structure of the carpal (wrist) bones prevented pronation of the wrist and forced the 'hands' to be held with the palmar surface facing inwards (medially), not downwards. The first digit of the foot, as in other theropods, was a small dewclaw. However, whereas most theropods had feet with three digits contacting the ground, dromaeosaurids like Velociraptor walked on only their third and fourth digits. The second digit, for which Velociraptor is most famous, was highly modified and held retracted off of the ground. It bore a relatively large, sickle-shaped claw, typical of dromaeosaurid and troodontid dinosaurs. This enlarged claw, which could be over 6.5 cm (2.6 in) long around its outer edge, was most likely a predatory device used to tear into prey, possibly delivering a fatal blow.

Long bony projections (prezygapophyses) on the upper surfaces of the vertebrae, as well
Artist Impression (Picture Source)
 as ossified tendons underneath, stiffened the tail of Velociraptor. The prezygapophyses began on the tenth tail (caudal) vertebra and extended forward to brace four to ten additional vertebrae, depending on position in the tail. The stiffening forced the entire tail to act as a single rod-like unit, preventing vertical motion between vertebrae. However, at least one specimen preserves a series of intact tail vertebrae curved sideways into an S-shape, suggesting that there was considerably more horizontal flexibility. These adaptations of the tail probably provided balance and stability while turning, especially at high speeds.

In 2007, paleontologists reported the discovery of quill knobs on a well-preserved Velociraptor mongoliensis forearm from Mongolia, confirming the presence of feathers in this species.

Velociraptor Skull
Velociraptor Skull (Picture Source)

During an American Museum of Natural History expedition to the Outer Mongolian Gobi Desert, on 11 August 1923 Peter Kaisen recovered the first Velociraptor fossil known to science: a crushed but complete skull, associated with one of the raptorial second toe claws (AMNH 6515). In 1924, museum president Henry Fairfield Osborn designated the skull and claw (which he assumed to come from the hand) as the type specimen of his new genus, Velociraptor. This name is derived from the Latin words velox ('swift') and raptor ('robber' or 'plunderer') and refers to the animal's cursorial nature and carnivorous diet. Osborn named the type species V. mongoliensis after its country of origin. Earlier that year, Osborn had mentioned the animal in a popular press article, under the name "Ovoraptor djadochtari" (not to be confused with the similarly named Oviraptor). However, because the name "Ovoraptor" was not published in a scientific journal or accompanied by a formal description, it is considered a nomen nudum ('naked name'), and the name Velociraptor retains priority.

While North American teams were shut out of communist Mongolia during the Cold War, expeditions by Soviet and Polish scientists, in collaboration with Mongolian colleagues, recovered several more specimens of Velociraptor. The most famous is part of the legendary "Fighting Dinosaurs" specimen (GIN 100/25), discovered by a Polish-Mongolian team in 1971. This fossil preserves a single Velociraptor in the midst of battle against a lone Protoceratops. This specimen is considered a national treasure of Mongolia, although in 2000 it was loaned to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for a temporary exhibition.

Between 1988 and 1990, a joint Chinese-Canadian team discovered Velociraptor remains in northern China. American scientists returned to Mongolia in 1990, and a joint Mongolian-American expedition to the Gobi, led by the American Museum of Natural History and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, turned up several well-preserved skeletons.


All known specimens of Velociraptor mongoliensis were discovered in the Djadochta Formation (also spelled Djadokhta), in the Mongolian province of Ömnögovi. Species of Velociraptor, have also been reported from the slightly younger Barun Goyot Formation of Mongolia, though these are indeterminate and may belong to a related genus instead. These geologic formations are estimated to date back to the Campanian stage (between 83 and 70 million years ago) of the Late Cretaceous Epoch.


All of the fossil sites that have yielded Velociraptor remains preserve an arid environment with fields of sand dunes and only intermittent streams, although the younger Barun Goyot environment seems to have been slightly wetter than the older Djadochta. The posture of some complete fossils, as well as the mode of preservation most show within structureless sandstone deposits, may show that a number of specimens were buried alive during sandstorm events common to the three environments.


Velociraptor is a member of the subfamily Velociraptorinae, a derived sub-group of the larger family Dromaeosauridae. In phylogenetic taxonomy, Velociraptorinae is usually defined as "all dromaeosaurs more closely related to Velociraptor than to Dromaeosaurus." Dromaeosaurid classification is highly variable. Originally, the subfamily Velociraptorinae was erected solely to contain Velociraptor. Other analyses have included other genera, usually Deinonychus and Saurornitholestes. A recent cladistic analysis indicated a monophyletic Velociraptorinae containing Velociraptor, Deinonychus, Tsaagan, and a closely related (but uncertainly positioned) Saurornitholestes.

In the past, other dromaeosaurid species, including Deinonychus antirrhopus and Saurornitholestes langstoni, have sometimes been classified in the genus Velociraptor. Since Velociraptor was the first to be named, these species were renamed Velociraptor antirrhopus and V. langstoni. However, the only currently recognized species of Velociraptor are V. mongoliensis and V. osmolskae.

When first described in 1924, Velociraptor was placed in the family Megalosauridae, as was the case with most carnivorous dinosaurs at the time (Megalosauridae, like Megalosaurus, functioned as a sort of 'wastebin' taxon, where many unrelated species were grouped together). As dinosaur discoveries multiplied, Velociraptor was later recognized as a dromaeosaurid. All dromaeosaurids have also been referred to the family Archaeopterygidae by at least one author (which would, in effect, make Velociraptor a flightless bird).


Predatory behavior

The "Fighting Dinosaurs" specimen, found in 1971, preserves a Velociraptor mongoliensis
Velociraptor skull
Skull of "Fighting Dinosaurs" Velociraptor
(Picture Source)
 and Protoceratops andrewsi in combat and provides direct evidence of predatory behavior. When originally reported, it was hypothesized that the two animals drowned. However, as the animals were preserved in ancient sand dune deposits, it is now thought that the animals were buried in sand, either from a collapsing dune or in a sandstorm. Burial must have been extremely fast, judging from the lifelike poses in which the animals were preserved. Both forelimbs and one hindlimb of the Protoceratops are missing, which has been seen as evidence of scavenging by other animals.

The distinctive claw, on the second digit of dromaeosaurids, has traditionally been depicted as a slashing weapon; its assumed use being to cut and disembowel prey. In the "Fighting Dinosaurs" specimen, the Velociraptor lies underneath, with one of its sickle claws apparently embedded in the throat of its prey, while the beak of Protoceratops is clamped down upon the right forelimb of its attacker. This suggests Velociraptor may have used its sickle claw to pierce vital organs of the throat, such as the jugular vein, carotid artery, or trachea (windpipe), rather than slashing the abdomen. The inside edge of the claw was rounded and not unusually sharp, which may have precluded any sort of cutting or slashing action, although only the bony core of the claw is known. The thick abdominal wall of skin and muscle of large prey species would have been difficult to slash without a specialized cutting surface. The slashing hypothesis was tested during a 2005 BBC documentary, The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs. The producers of the program created an artificial Velociraptor leg with a sickle claw and used a pork belly to simulate the dinosaur's prey. Though the sickle claw did penetrate the abdominal wall, it was unable to tear it open, indicating that the claw was not used to disembowel prey. However, this experiment has not been published or repeated by other scientists, so its results cannot be confirmed.

Remains of Deinonychus, a closely related dromaeosaurid, have commonly been found in aggregations of several individuals. Deinonychus has also been found in association with a large herbivore, Tenontosaurus, which has been seen as evidence of cooperative hunting. The only solid evidence for social behavior among dromaeosaurids comes from a Chinese trackway of fossil footprints, which shows six individuals of a large species moving as a group, though no evidence of cooperative hunting was found. Although many isolated fossils of Velociraptor have been found in Mongolia, none were closely associated with any other individuals. Therefore, while Velociraptor is commonly depicted as a pack hunter, as in Jurassic Park, there is only limited fossil evidence to support this theory for dromaeosaurids in general, and none specific to Velociraptor itself. The pack hunting theory was based on a discovery of several specimens of Deinonychus found around the remains of a Tenontosaurus. No other group of dromaeosaurids has been found in close association.

Scavenging behavior

In 2010 Hone and colleagues published a paper on their 2008 discovery of shed teeth of what they believed to be a Velociraptor near a tooth-marked jaw bone of what they believed to be a Protoceratops in the Bayan Mandahu Formation. The authors concluded that the find represented "late-stage carcass consumption by Velociraptor" as the predator would have eaten other parts of a freshly-killed Protoceratops before biting in the jaw area. The evidence was seen as supporting the inference from the "Fighting Dinosaurs" fossil that Protoceratops was part of the diet of Velociraptor.


Velociraptor was probably warm-blooded to some degree, as it required a significant amount of energy to hunt. Modern animals that possess feathery or furry coats, like Velociraptor did, tend to be warm-blooded, since these coverings function as insulation. However, bone growth rates in dromaeosaurids and some early birds suggest a more moderate metabolism, compared with most modern warm-blooded mammals and birds. The kiwi is similar to dromaeosaurids in anatomy, feather type, bone structure and even the narrow anatomy of the nasal passages (usually a key indicator of metabolism). The kiwi is a highly active, if specialized, flightless bird, with a stable body temperature and a fairly low resting metabolic rate, making it a good model for the metabolism of primitive birds and dromaeosaurids.


Fossils of dromaeosaurids more primitive than Velociraptor are known to have had
(Picture Source)
 feathers covering their bodies, and fully developed, feathered wings. The fact that the ancestors of Velociraptor were feathered and possibly capable of flight long suggested to paleontologists that Velociraptor bore feathers as well, since even flightless birds today retain most of their feathers.

In September 2007, researchers found quill knobs on the forearm of a Velociraptor found in Mongolia. These bumps on bird wing bones show where feathers anchor, and their presence on Velociraptor indicate it too had feathers.  The forearm specimen on which the quill knobs were found (specimen number IGM 100/981) represents an animal 1.5 meters in length (5 ft) and 15 kilograms (33 lbs) in weight. Based on the spacing of the six preserved knobs in this specimen, the authors suggested that Velociraptor bore 14 secondaries (wing feathers stemming from the forearm), compared with 12 or more in Archaeopteryx, 18 in Microraptor, and 10 in Rahonavis. This type of variation in the number of wing feathers between closely related species, the authors asserted, is to be expected, given similar variation among modern birds.

Velociraptor is presumed to have been flightless due to its relatively large size and short forelimbs, yet the evidence implies that the ancestors of dromaeosaurids could fly, making Velociraptor and other large members of this family secondarily flightless, though it is possible the large wing feathers inferred in the ancestors of Velociraptor had a purpose other than flight. The feathers of the flightless Velociraptor may have been used for display, for covering their nests while brooding, or for added speed and thrust when running up inclined slopes.

In popular culture

Velociraptor are well-known for their role as vicious and cunning killers in the 1990 novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and its 1993 film adaptation, directed by Steven Spielberg, in which they served as the main antagonists. The "raptors" portrayed in Jurassic Park were modeled after a larger relative, Deinonychus, which Gregory Paul at the time called Velociraptor antirrhopus. The paleontologists in the film and the novel excavate a so-called Velociraptor skeleton in Montana, far from the central Asian range of Velociraptor but well within the range of Deinonychus. A character in Crichton's novel also states that "…Deinonychus is now considered one of the velociraptors", indicating that Crichton used Paul's taxonomy, though the "raptors" in the novel are referred to as V. mongoliensis.

The filmmakers also had the size of the film's Velociraptor increased for dramatic reasons, and changed the shape of the snout. Additionally, the forelimbs of the film animals differed in structure and posture from those of real dromaeosaurids and their tails were too short and flexible, anatomical errors which directly contradict fossil evidence. Another noticeable difference is the lack of feathers for the novel and film version of Velociraptor. In real life, Velociraptor, like many other maniraptoran theropods, was covered in feathers. Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, however, were released before this was known. In Jurassic Park III, the Velociraptor are depicted with quill-like structures along the back of the head and neck, although these do not resemble the down-like feathers known from real-life dromaeosaurids, and the quill knobs on some Velociraptor specimens show that they had fully developed feathers akin to those of modern birds. Also in Jurassic Park III, Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, states that Velociraptor were smarter than dolphins, whales and some primates. Based on fossil evidence, this is highly unlikely.

Due to the success of many Jurassic Park-related products, Velociraptor has become a ubiquitous representation of dinosaurs in popular culture. It has been featured in numerous toy lines, animated films, video games and television series for children, along with several television documentaries. In 1995, the city of Toronto was awarded a National Basketball Association expansion team, which was named the Toronto Raptors.

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