When people hear the name Velociraptor, they automatically imagine fast, intelligent, and deadly, pack predators. At least, that’s the impression that popular fiction has given people about this dinosaur. It’s made Velociraptors one of the most famous dinosaurs in the world, but fact and fiction don’t mean the same thing. Learn the truth about these prehistoric celebrities with these 40 Velociraptor facts.
- Popular fiction typically shows Velociraptor standing around 2 meters tall, and weighing around 80 kg.
- In reality, Velociraptors stood only around 122 cm tall, with a weight of up to 14 kg.
- However, they could grow up to 2 meters long, from the tips of their snouts to the ends of their tails.
- Their skulls could also account for up to 25 cm of their total body length.
- Velociraptors also had up to 28 teeth, with the teeth having serrations on their backs.
- Velociraptors lived between 75 and 71 million years ago.
- Inconclusive evidence suggests they may have evolved even earlier, up to 80 million years ago.
- In 1924, Henry Osborn gave the dinosaur its first scientific name, Ovoraptor djadochtari.
- Later that same year, he changed it to the modern Velociraptor mongoliensis.
- Paleontologists first discovered Velociraptor fossils in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert in 1923.
- Soviet and Polish scientists monopolized studies of the Velociraptor during the Cold War.
- Western scientists regained access to Velociraptor fossils after the Cold War.
- In 1990, Canadian and Chinese scientists jointly discovered Velociraptor fossils in Northern China.
- In 2008, scientists discovered a second Velociraptor species, Velociraptor osmolskae.
- Several fossils once thought to belong to Velociraptors became reclassified in 2021 as another species, Shri devi.
- Velociraptors commonly get referred to by their simpler nickname of raptors.
- Raptors in popular fiction often get confused with the older Deinonychus genus of dinosaurs.
- In reality, Deinonychus had gone extinct long before the first raptors evolved.
- All raptor fossils today come from desert regions in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia.
- Other relatives of the raptor include Achillobator and Utahraptor.
Velociraptors’ names have stories behind them.
Velociraptor comes from the Latin words velox, meaning swift, and raptor, meaning robber or plunderer. Put together, they give the name swift plunderer, as the scientists who first found its fossils quickly noticed how the raptor looked like a fast predator in life. The second part of its scientific name, mongoliensis, refers to the country of Mongolia, where scientists first found the fossils. The second part of the other raptor species’ name, osmolskae, refers to Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmolska, who had led expeditions into Mongolia to study dinosaur fossils from the 1960s to the 1970s.
They count the Hesperornithoides dinosaurs as their oldest ancestors.
They lived between 162 to 145 million years ago and had more or less the same size as their descendants. Fossil evidence also strongly suggests that Hesperornithoides had feathers, which would have given it the appearance of a large bird and not a lizard. While Hesperornithoides couldn’t fly, the skeletal design of its arms gave them a winglike appearance. So much so, that scientists think Hesperornithoides could have used them to reduce wind resistance when moving quickly, and letting it move even faster. Scientists also think Hesperornithoides provided a major link in the evolution of flight, and also provides evidence to the theory that modern birds evolved from the dinosaurs.
Scientists have found the fossils of other dinosaurs near the raptors’ fossils.
These include Mahakala omnogovae, Oviraptor philoceratops, and Saurornithoides mongoliensis. Scientists have also noticed that geographic conditions in the modern Gobi Desert where they found the fossils also existed at the time of the dinosaurs’ deaths. Together with the postures they found the fossils in, as well as the condition of the fossils themselves, scientists think all the dinosaurs died in similar ways. Those include getting buried alive in a sandstorm or accidentally getting caught in quicksand.
Reconstructions of the raptors’ bodies show them having a distinguished appearance.
They had large hands with three sharpened claws, similar in skeletal structure to those of modern birds. Their claws also had varying lengths, with the first claw having the shortest length, and the second claw the longest. Their wrist bones also forced the dinosaurs to hold their claws inwards, towards their bodies, instead of downwards to the ground. As for their feet, they had four claws, one of which grew smaller and higher up on the foot than the others. They walked with only the third and fourth claws touching the ground, though, while keeping the second claw drawn back into the air. This second claw grew larger than the others, with a sickle-like shape, and the raptor’s most distinct feature.
Scientists question the effectiveness of the raptor’s famous claw.
Scientists once thought raptors used the sickle claw to outright disembowel their prey with a single sweep. However, reconstructions of the muscles attached to the sickle-claw have caused scientists to question this theory. The sickle claw certainly had more cutting power than the other claws and could cut through skin and the muscle beneath easily. However, against organs deeper in the body, such as the intestines, the sickle claw would find itself getting stuck. This has led scientists to think that the sickle-claw worked as a weapon of opportunity, or as a way to better hold onto prey to keep them from escaping.
They also had feathers.
The evidence for this also proves more concrete than for other dinosaurs, specifically fossilized knobs once used to anchor feathers in the raptor’s bodies. Some scientists criticize this, pointing out how some birds like flamingos have feathers with no knobs. Most scientists agree, however, that the existing evidence stands beyond question. Based on this evidence, scientists conclude that unlike what popular fiction shows, raptors actually looked like large, flightless birds. In fact, many scientists have noted that one modern bird has a very similar skeletal structure to the raptor. They also share the same kind of feathers and even nasal structure. Specifically, the famous kiwis of New Zealand.
The raptor also had other bird-like traits.
For one thing, they have hollow bones, making them lighter and which helps modern birds fly. Raptors couldn’t fly, but they could very quickly, like their ancestors, would have used their wings to reduce wind resistance to move even faster. For another thing, they have certain skeletal features that modern birds also have. Those include hinged ankles, as well as wishbones, even if the latter had a different shape. Along with their short wings, their differently-shaped wishbones kept raptors from flying. That said, scientists still think this allowed raptors to contribute to the evolution of flight. Specifically, birds grew longer wings, and different wishbones, from those of their ancestors, letting them fly where raptors could not.
They also had a warm-blooded metabolism.
The fact that raptors had feathers practically required them to have had warm-blooded metabolism. Feathers work very well as insulators, and cold-blooded animals would not have the ability to automatically regulate their body temperatures. Simply put, if raptors had a cold-blooded metabolism, they’d have died from heatstroke. Only a warm-blooded metabolism would have let them keep their feathers without overheating. They’d also need a warm-blooded metabolism to succeed as quick predators with their small sizes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have had the energy to move and hunt so quickly. That said, despite having warm-blooded metabolisms, bone studies show that raptors grew more slowly than either mammals or modern birds. Scientists today continue to study why this proves the case.
A raptor features in the famous Fighting Dinosaurs fossil set.
Discovered in 1971, it includes a raptor and a protoceratops fossilized while fighting each other. Scientists think a sand dune collapsed on top of the two dinosaurs as they fought, trapping and suffocating them to death. At the same time, the sand kept them in the position they became trapped in while preserving their bodies. Originally, scientists had thought that the raptor had become buried in sand while scavenging a dead protoceratops, but studies of the fossil proved this false.
In particular, the stance of the protoceratops’ skeleton could only have become possible in life. They also note that the protoceratops had the raptor’s right claw in its mouth. The raptor also has its feet positioned to strike at the protoceratops. This led scientists to conclude that both dinosaurs died while fighting each other, ironically just as the raptor seemed about to win the fight.
Paleontologists have noted other discrepancies in the Fighting Dinosaurs fossil set.
In particular, they notice how the skeletons of both dinosaurs seem to have parts missing. This has caused debate among scientists as to what could have caused the disappearances. The main theory today involves that while sand buried and killed the two dinosaurs, it didn’t cover them completely at first. Instead, parts of their bodies poked above the sand, or they became buried shallowly enough that the smell of their rotting flesh passed through the ground. This drew the attention of scavengers, which picked at the parts they could reach, leading to the missing parts. Other scientists think that instead, the rest of the protoceratops’ herd tried to pull out their dead fellow dinosaur from the sand. They failed but managed to tear off bits and pieces from both dinosaurs in their efforts.
Other raptor fossils have signs they died fighting fellow dinosaurs.
Scientists have found one raptor fossil so far, a skull, specifically, with puncture wounds that match those caused by a bite from another raptor. Further study of the skull showed no sign of healing in the bone, leading scientists to conclude the raptor died from the fight. Scientists have also found another raptor skeleton, this time with broken ribs. Based on the study of fossilized bones of its last meal, and that said meal showed little signs of digestion, the raptor died of its rib injuries soon after. However, in this case, scientists remain unsure about what could have caused the rib injuries that killed the raptor.
Scientists still debate whether or not raptors hunted in packs.
Popular fiction commonly shows raptors living and hunting as pack animals, almost like wolves. And certainly, similar dinosaurs like deinonychus hunted in packs, which provides circumstantial evidence of raptors also doing the same. That said, scientists have found no fossil evidence for raptors living and hunting in packs. The closest they’ve found involve fossilized raptor footprints showing several raptors moving closely at the same time, but scientists don’t see this as conclusive. In fact, together with the raptor’s birdlike appearance, most scientists think that raptors tended to act like modern hawks or eagles. They sometimes worked together to bring down big prey, but most of the time, they hunted and lived alone.
Their intelligence also remains in question among scientists.
Here’s another surprising example of Velociraptor Facts. Popular fiction also commonly shows raptors as very intelligent, and their intelligence even resulting from and contributing to their pack behavior. However, scientists think this exaggerates the intelligence raptors actually had, especially since as we mentioned earlier, they probably never lived or hunted in packs. That said, scientists do agree that compared to most other dinosaurs, raptors had quite the intelligence. They certainly had bigger brains compared to other dinosaurs of the same size. So while scientists don’t think raptors had the intelligence of chimps or even dogs, they had the same intelligence as modern predator birds, like hawks or eagles.
They may have hunted prey bigger than themselves, though.
Evidence for this comes from the fossilized bones of a pterosaur found in a raptor’s stomach. As flight-capable dinosaurs, pterosaurs had massive wingspans, up to 3 meters wide, in fact. While the specimen found in the raptor’s stomach clearly had smaller dimensions, it would still have had a bigger body compared to the raptor. That said, many scientists disagree with this conclusion. They argue, based on the behavior of modern predators similar to raptors, that a raptor would only hunt smaller or equally-sized prey, like primitive, ratlike mammals. If they hunted bigger prey, then they would pick prey only slightly bigger than themselves. As for the pterosaur bones in the raptor fossil, skeptical scientists instead argue they came from a dead pterosaur that the raptor simply scavenged.
Raptors could run very quickly.
Scientists think raptors could have reached running speeds of up to 40 kph, based on how big their legs would have grown. Reconstruction of their muscles also supports this theory, along with reconstruction of the rest of their bodies. Earlier, we already mentioned how raptors could have used their wings to let them move faster. Other useful body parts include their tail, which stretched out long behind them, while also proving very flexible based on studies of their backbones. This would have given raptors excellent balance, enough to make precise swerves and jumps while running quickly.
Their senses had mixed quality, though.
Studies of raptor skulls show that raptors had large eye sockets, meaning raptors likely had big eyes. This points to them having nocturnal habits, as animals with big eyes generally tend to act. This would also mean that with their very good eyesight at night, then at day, they would have even better eyesight. However, studies of their ear canals point to raptors actually having poor hearing, only able to catch sounds of up to 4000 Hertz. In contrast, humans can hear sounds of up to 20,000 Hertz, and wolves can hear sounds of up to 80,000 hertz. This still places a raptor’s hearing as comparable to modern birds, though, with eagles generally having a hearing range of around 2000 Hertz.
Raptors may have sat on their eggs to keep them warm.
The evidence proves rather circumstantial, based on fossils of the similarly feathered and birdlike oviraptor sitting on their eggs. Scientists then note that raptors have even closer relations to birds than oviraptor does. This leads scientists to theorize that raptors sat on their eggs, using their feathers to even out their body heat while warming their eggs.
Raptors have appeared in popular fiction.
Along with the T-Rex, raptors probably count as the most famous dinosaurs in the world, especially thanks to the Jurassic Park franchise. In the first film, even before the story, raptors had already gained the reputation of the most intelligent and dangerous dinosaurs in the park. So much so, that the people in charge had them separated from the other dinosaurs. They prove this when they break loose in the film, and kill the most people out of any dinosaur, with the survivors escaping thanks to the T-Rex killing the raptors after they trespass on its territory.
Raptors return in the 2nd and 3rd films, again as antagonists, but gain sympathy in the third film. There, the raptors only hunt humans after one of them stole a pair of eggs, and leave after getting the eggs back. And in the 4th and 5th films, the raptors actually become heroic, thanks to bonding with a human trainer who helped raise them in the new Jurassic World theme park.
Scientists don’t fault the Jurassic Park franchise for their raptors’ scientific inaccuracy.
For one thing, when the first film came out, and before it, the novel that inspired it got published, no one knew that raptors had feathers. Later films had to retain their reptilian appearance, no matter how inaccurate, to maintain continuity. The same goes for their pack behavior, as well as their incredible intelligence. Later films also returned to the original novel, about how the recovered dinosaur had suffered damage for tens of millions of years. This forced the scientists in the story to fill in the blanks, which explain the differences in appearance and behavior.
Scientists in reality also think that it’s better that the dinosaurs in the film don’t have accurate physical appearances either. In the raptor’s case, this comes from the fact that accuracy would make it look very unsettling. In particular, its true, birdlike appearance would not actually look out of place in real life, making audiences skeptical at best. At worst, it might make the audience worry about how birds like the raptor can actually become deadly predators.
Scientists also don’t think that raptors would hunt humans.
Assuming, of course, that raptors appear in modern times. For one thing, we’re bigger than raptors, so they’d actually prefer to avoid us and places where we live. And for another thing, even if they do hunt us at first, they’ll quickly learn to stop, much like other predators today. This comes from the fact that humans always hunt down and kill any predators that try to kill them, to keep them from repeating the fact. Over time, other predators learned not to attack humans, for fear of provoking us.
That said, even in such a case, raptors may still attack humans if provoked. Like say, we intrude on their territory among other possible reasons. There’s a reason even people who visit wildlife reserves keep their distance from lions and bears, for example. Even if they don’t attack on sight, if humans get too close for comfort, the animals will lash out in self-defense.