This is what scientists say
velociraptor really looked like
Seen the movie Jurassic Park? A smart-aleck kid, unimpressed by Dr. Alan Grant’s velociraptor fossil, says, “That’s not very scary. More like a six-foot turkey.” So Dr. Grant gets out his fearsome velociraptor claw, crouches to kid-level, and says:
Try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous period. You get your first look at this “six-foot turkey” as you enter a clearing. . . . You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two ‘raptors you didn’t even know were there. Because velociraptor’s a pack hunter, you see. He uses coordinated attack patterns, and he is out in force today.
And he slashes at you with this: a six-inch retractable claw, like a razor, on the middle toe. He doesn’t bother to bite your jugular, like a lion, say. No no. He slashes at you here, or here, or maybe across the belly, spilling your intestines. The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you. So, you know, try to show a little respect.
But, turns out, Dr. Grant was the six-foot turkey. Today’s scientists say that velociraptors were small, feathered critters who couldn’t use their claws to disembowel their prey. So, you know, try to imagine a killer turkey instead.
Scientists knew even when Jurassic Park came out that velociraptors weren’t really six feet tall. But being stalked by 3-foot-tall (1-meter) killers–even ones with sharp, serrated teeth–wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic.
At best, velociraptors were six feet long, measured with their tails outstretched. They weighed about 30 pounds (15 kg). The “velociraptors” in Jurassic Park were based on a related “dromaeosaur” species named deinonychus (die-NON-ih-kiss), which means “terrible claw.”
Scientists had long believed that the dromaeosaurs could use their “disemboweling claw” to rip open prey in one swift, terrible strike. But in 2005, mechanical tests indicated that this sickle-shaped claw wouldn’t cut it as a disemboweler.
Pragmatic scientists simply attached a replica claw to a robot limb and went about attacking pig and crocodile carcasses. Said team leader Phil Manning, “The claw only managed to puncture the pig hide and, with the crocodile skin, which is probably the most similar to dinosaur skin, it just bounced off. Using the claw to slash would have been like me trying to disembowel you with a plastic spoon.”
Finally, put the image of “terrible lizards” out of your head. Scientists have increasingly linked dinosaurs to birds. They’ve increasingly depicted species with feathers. Now, they know velociraptor was indeed a feathered fiend.
In 2007, scientists announced that they’ve found evidence of quill knobs on velociraptor fossils–places where feathers were attached to the animal’s bone, just as they are on many birds. Said scientist Alan Turner, “This is something we’d long suspected, but no one had been able to prove. Finding quill knobs on velociraptor, though, means that it definitely had feathers.” Time to make a new dinosaur movie.