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Virtual velociraptors of Jurassic Park
Virtual raptors of Jurassic Park

Velociraptor

The Velociraptor is well known to the general public for being an extremely fast and intelligent dinosaur hunting in packs and able to ambush its prey; while the target is distracted by the Velociraptor in front of him, two others flank and attack him on the sides. At least that's what the producers of Jurassic Park told us to believe. American cinema feeds a very large number of myths about this dinosaur that actually turn out to be mostly fake.

Velociraptor did not hunt in pack

First of all, to date there is no formal proof that the Velociraptor hunted in groups. All identified specimens of raptors, about a dozen, are solitary individuals. The idea that this dinosaur ganged up to attack its prey probably comes from the discovery of associated Deinonychus fossils in northern America. This larger raptor may have hunted in packs to bring down larger duck-billed dinosaurs like Tenontosaurus, but there is no reason to extrapolate these findings to Velociraptor.

Velociraptor could not turn door handles

Second, although Velociraptor Mongoliensis was indeed one of the most intelligent dinosaurs due to the fact that it possessed a large brain in proportion to its body, its true intelligence quotient (IQ) was greatly exaggerated in the information conveyed to the public. For those who remember the scene of Jurassic Park where Velociraptor manages to understand how to turn the handle of the door; it is a pure invention of Steven Spielberg. Even the Troodon, which is considered to be the most intelligent dinosaur of the Mesozoic era, was hardly smarter than a newborn kitten, and it is quite safe to say that no reptile in the world has ever learned to use tools with the possible exception of the American alligator. A true Velociraptor would probably have banged its head against the kitchen door until it lost consciousness; its hungry friends would then have seized the opportunity to feast on its carcass.

Jurassic Park cult scene

The Jurassic Park velociraptors are modeled on the Deinonychus

But that's not all. As depicted in the Jurassic Park films, the Velociraptor was recreated twice as large as it actually is and closely modeled on the Deinonychus. Although it was badly perceived at the time, a little after the release of the first film we discovered the remains of another species of raptor of stature even greater than that of virtual Velociraptors, Utahraptor. In reality, Velociraptor Mongoliensis was approximately the same size as a large turkey. Not very scary for a suspense movie! This carnivore weighed about 30 pounds while wet (about the same as a good-sized toddler) and reached the inspiring height of 2 feet tall and 6 feet long. One begins to understand why Hollywood producers turned their attention to the Deinonychus to model the villains of their successful franchise. In fact, it would take 6 or 7 adult Velociraptor to match a single medium-sized Deinonychus, 500 to match an adult Tyrannosaurus, and 5000 to equal the weight of a single large titanosaur.

Velociraptor had feathers

Velociraptor mongoliensis
Velociraptor mongoliensis

But the lie does not stop there; There's more! Velociraptor had feathers and not a reptilian scaly skin. By extrapolating from smaller and more primitive feathered raptors that preceded Velociraptor by several million years, paleontologists believe that velociraptors also sported feathers because of pimples located on their bones and where feathers could tie like modern birds. The skin of this dinosaur is represented in a multitude of ways by artists in search of imagination, but one thing is certain; Velociraptor did not have a lizard skin as depicted in Jurassic's films. If we assume that this dinosaur was to camouflage in order to sneak towards its prey, its plumage was probably darker than brilliant.

Velociraptor lived in Asia during the Late Cretaceous

The Velociraptor, which means "speedy plunderer" or "speedy thief" was a small carnivorous dromaeosaurid theropod that lived during the Upper Cretaceous in Central Asia in a region that now corresponds to Mongolia. Dromaeosaurids are a family of dinosaurs very similar to birds that appeared in the middle of the Jurassic (late Bathonian). These dinosaurs were all carnivorous and their skins consisted of small and medium-sized feathers. They flourished for nearly 100 million years in all parts of the world until they disappeared with other dinosaurs during the massive Cretaceous-Tertiary (now Cretaceous-Paleocene) extinction. Moving straight on two legs, the Velociraptor could reach speeds of 39 km / h. It was formidable on land and able to cover great distances very quickly.

Diet

Fighting dinosaurs
Fighting dinosaurs - Velociraptor vs Protoceratops

Velociraptor Mongoliensis fed on the flesh of other small dinosaurs of similar size, such as the Protoceratops, which was about the same height as a pig. One of the most famous fossil specimens in the world of paleontology is that of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops locked in a deadly fight while they are both buried alive by the sudden appearance of a sandstorm or the crushing of a dune. This scene is one of the few pieces of evidence available to tell us directly about the eating habits of this little carnivorous dinosaur. And if you look at the general appearance of it, it seems that it was not the Velociraptor that prevailed before they tragically perished. This fossil is known as "Fighting Dinosaurs" and by the acronym GIN 100/25 and is so valuable that it is considered a national treasury of Mongolia. It was once exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Velociraptor also fed on Tylocephali, Oviraptors, Gallimimus, small reptiles and amphibians as well as insects and mammals. Researchers believe that the raptor was also possibly an opportunistic scavenger, feeding on carcasses of dead animals when the opportunity arose.

Hunting tactics

Raptor claw

The weapon of choice for this carnivorous predator was its unique, three-inch-long curved claw that adorned each of its hind feet and used it to hack, prick and disembowel its prey. Scientists speculated that the Velociraptor stabbed its prey in the belly during surprise attacks and that it then moved away at a safe distance leaving his victim to agonize and bleed to death. It then came back to enjoy its well deserved meal. This strategy was also used several million years later by the saber-toothed tiger who jumped on its preys from low tree limbs. The raptor also had a lot of sharp, pointed teeth that could have allowed it to bite its victims on the neck before firmly grasping their bodies until they were no longer able to fight and collapsed on the ground.

Habitat

Dromaeosaurids have mostly lived in Asia, in the Gobi Desert, which is a vast desert region lying between northern China and southern Mongolia. This desert encompasses about a third of the total area of Mongolia. The natural habitat of the Mongolian raptor was mainly in forests as well as in semi-arid areas.

Description

As mentioned earlier, the Velociraptor was very small, barely larger than a big turkey, and looked a lot like a bird. A raptor of considerable size was about 2 feet high for a weight between 30 and 40 pounds. The jaw of this little carnivorous theropod was very powerful and had 80 sharp teeth. One can easily distinguish this dinosaur from other dromeosaurids by the shape of its head which is very narrow and flattened. Another unique feature of the raptor is that the volume of its brain is relatively large in proportion to its size, giving it a superior intelligence compared to other dinosaurs.

Like modern birds, the skin of Velociraptor was covered with feathers. This fact was officially confirmed when paleontologists discovered featherbugs on a very well preserved forearm of a specimen unearthed in 2007. Its plumage was probably dark in color although this remains uncertain. Despite being a feathered animal, this dinosaur could not fly or even hover since his arms were far too short for it to do this kind of maneuvering. There was a time when the ancestors of the dromeosaurids could fly but they lost that skill over time and evolution. The Velociraptor, however, retained its plumage and used it to attract partners, regulate body temperature, protect eggs from the environment and generate thrust and speed while running on slopes.

Its tail consisted of very rigid bone tendons that allowed it to maintain its balance as it ran, hunted and jumped. The raptor, like most other dromeosaurids, had two appendages resembling hands that were embellished with three curved claws. It also had a sickle claw on the second toe of each foot. This retractable claw was normally kept out of the ground like a folded knife and could serve as a hook to prevent its prey from escaping (very similar to modern birds of prey).

Fossils

Velociraptor fossils

The first remains of Velociraptor Mongoliensis were discovered in 1923 by Peter Kaisen, then a member of a team of paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History, during an expedition to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Initial finds included only a crushed cranium and a retracting sickle claw. Some time later, in 1924, Henry Fairfield Osborn officially named the Velociraptor specimen. Subsequently, numerous expeditions led by Russian and Polish scientists recovered several fossils of Velociraptor. The most famous fossil is one that preserves the scene of a fight between a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor. The Velociraptor lies below the Protoceratops with one of its sickle claws apparently planting in the throat of its prey. Contrary to popular belief that sickle claws were used to slash the abdomen, it suggests that it used them to pierce the vital organs of its victims: jugular vein, carotid artery and trachea. Found in 1971, this is one of the few direct evidence that bears witness to the predatory nature of this dinosaur. In the 1990s, remnants of raptor were also found in northern China. Another specimen very well known by the acronym IGM 100/980 and named "Ichabodcraniosaurus" is a complete fossil of Velociraptor with the exception of the skull that is still missing. All remnants of Velociraptor Mongoliensis have been unearthed in the Djadochta Formation, located in the Ömnögovi Province of Mongolia, which is a Late Cretaceous geological formation and part of the Nemegt Basin.

Classification

Velociraptor mongoliensis belongs to the eudromaeosaurian clade and is a member of the dromaeosaurids family. On the other hand, this dromaeosaur is often placed in the group of Velociraptorinae which are a sub-family of theropod dinosaurs.

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