Velociraptors might conjure up images of large, scaly, voracious creatures. In reality, Velociraptor mongoliensis was a medium to small-sized feathered dinosaur about the size of a turkey. But did Jurassic Park get it all completely wrong?
What Are Velociraptors?
Velociraptors are members of the family Dromaesauridae, a feathered, carnivorous bunch of dinosaurs with hollow bones. The word breaks down to mean “sneaky thief” with “velox” meaning “sneaky” and “raptor” meaning thief or plunderer. These agile and somewhat petite creatures have curved claws measuring just under 3 inches along their outer edges. Unfortunately, the similarities in reality and their portrayal in Jurassic Park are very few. Aside from the general shape of the dinosaur and their claws, the rest of their features are either exaggerated or fictitious. For example, in the movies, velociraptors are pack hunters. In reality, there is no evidence to suggest this.
Velociraptors and many other fan-favorite dinosaurs like the T-rex were from the late Cretaceous period. This geological period took place from 99 million to 66 million years ago. Known as “The Age of Dinosaurs” the Cretaceous also presented some of the first modern bird and mammal fossils as well as evidence of the first flowering plants.
With many similarities to modern birds, like hollow bones and feathers, it’s no wonder most scientists suggest dromaeosaurids are the most closely related non-avian dinosaurs to birds. “Raptors”, on the other hand, are a more broad category. The word “raptor” is shorthand when referencing velociraptors, but refers to a larger group of carnivorous birds. The talons of raptors, like eagles and hawks, are similar in shape to the claws of a velociraptor.
Fact and fiction don’t always play well together. Movies often exaggerate reality for the sake of good cinema, so some of these facts may come as a shock to diehard Jurassic Park fanatics.
How Big Was the Largest Velociraptor?
The biggest velociraptor ever found measured just under 7 feet long and around 1.5 feet tall at hip height. As evident by these measurements, velociraptors were a lot smaller than their silver screen interpretation would lead us to believe. Compared to what the media’s popularized representation of this animal is, its actual size is a bit underwhelming. With a relatively unintimidating size, velociraptors do make up for it in speed and voracity. Determinations are that raptors were quite fast, reaching speeds up to 25 miles per hour with possible bursts up to 40 miles per hour. They also have a nasty bite with a bite force of up to 1,000 PSI (pounds per square inch). That’s about the same as a spotted hyena and slightly less than that of a polar bear, which comes in at around 1,200 PSI.
What is the largest raptor to exist?
A larger member of the Dromaesauridae family and relative of the velociraptor was found, known as Utahraptor ostrommayosorum. Known as “Utahraptor” for short, this dinosaur grew to be about 19 feet long and slightly under 5 feet high at the hip. The largest fossils of this animal found were 23 feet long! Due to their large size, almost anything could be their dinner. If food was scarce they would scavenge upon carcasses they encountered. In addition to their large size and appetite to match, there is also evidence these giant raptors could swim up to 12 miles per hour.
Another raptor even bigger than the Utahraptor (and velociraptor) was found in Argentina in 2019. “Maip”, short for its scientific name Maip macrothorax, could be up to 32 feet long. Scientists used vertebral measurements and proportional comparisons to make these estimations of their maximum size. Large raptors of this size are “megaraptors” and typically are in a different category than velociraptors. So, the Utahraptor still holds the title for largest raptor to have existed.
As you can see, velociraptors are almost the least of our worries if dinosaurs were to roam the earth again.
What Did Velociraptors Eat?
Interpretations of prehistoric animals’ behavior and diet can be done by observing modern relatives. Such relatives like Komodo dragons are models to figure out related dinos’ diets and feeding behaviors. These current-day dinosaur representatives suggest that not only did velociraptors not hunt or eat in packs, but their diet differed with age. Diversity in the diet can mean that these animals, like the Komodo dragon, did not raise their young. In fact, young velociraptors may have had to escape their parents to avoid being eaten! This fact is what suggests velociraptors were solitary feeders and hunters.
Their narrow jaws and small stature kept them from feeding on large prey. Instead, velociraptors had more reasonable preferences in eating small mammals, lizards and other reptiles, and the occasional small or sickly Protoceratops. Other smaller dinosaurs were also on the menu. These velociraptors, despite not being the largest dinosaurs found, definitely were crafty enough to get by in a world full of larger species.
Think you know all there is to know about these small but mighty creatures? Check out this quiz to test your velociraptor knowledge!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © kamomeen/Shutterstock.com
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