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artist's depiction of a velociraptorVelociraptor

Familiar to many fans of Jurassic Park, the real-life Velociraptor actually had little in common with its movie counterpart.

The Velociraptor that lived in what is now Mongolia and northern China during the Late Cretaceous Period (about 70-65 million years ago) had an s-shaped neck, arms with three-fingered clawed hands, long thin legs, and four-toed clawed feet. It was about 6 feet long, stood up to 3 feet tall, and weighed up to 40 pounds. Velociraptor skullThe skull, which grew up to 10 inches long, was uniquely up-curved, concave on the upper surface and convex on the lower. The jaws were lined with 26-28 serrated, widely-spaced teeth up to an inch or more long on each side. Its most prominent feature was a long tail, which likely kept it balanced as it ran and allowed it to make quick turns. Paleontologists estimate that the Velociraptor could run up to 40 miles per hour for short bursts and jump as high as 10 feet straight up into the air.

A few fossils have provided evidence that the Velociraptor had feathers, but its anatomy did not allow it to fly. It is likely that the feathers helped the Velociraptor attract mates, regulate its body temperature, and helped females protect their eggs. Since no Velociraptor fossil has ever been found with either feathers or skin, it is left to individual artists to determine what it looked like.

the 'mortal combat' findAlthough the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park hunted in packs, every fossil found to date has been of a solitary individual, leading paleontologists to assume that it hunted alone. Paleontologists have also concluded that Velociraptor preyed on other dinosaurs, a conclusion that was made possible by the discovery of the fossilized remains of a Velociraptor locked in combat with a comparably sized Protoceratops. The Velociraptor was attacking the Protoceratops with its 2.5-inch-long claws while the Protoceratops was biting down on the Velociraptor's head when the two were apparently buried in a sudden sand avalanche.

mounted Velociraptor skeletonThe first Velociraptor fossil was discovered in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia in 1923 by Peter Kaisen, during an expedition sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Museum president Henry F. Osborn gave this raptor its name, which means "speecy thief" in Greek, in 1924. About a dozen specimens have been found to date, all but one of them in Mongolia; the one exception was discovered in northern China. All of the fossil recovery sites bear evidence of an arid environment with fields of sand dunes and only intermittent streams.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Archosauria
order Saurischia
family Dromaeosauridae
genus & species Velociraptor mangoliensis

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  The Robinson Library > Science > Geology > Paleontology

This page was last updated on 02/04/2015.

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