10 Famous Raptors That Weren't Velociraptor

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No, Velociraptor Wasn't the Only Raptor of the Late Cretaceous Period

Unenlagia, a raptor that should be as famous as Velociraptor (Sergey Krasovskiy).

Thank to Jurassic Park, Velociraptor is far and away the world's most famous raptor--most people would be hard-pressed to name two other examples, if they even knew such dinosaurs existed! Well, it's time to rectify this pop-culture injustice. On the following pages, you'll find 10 raptors that gave Velociraptor a run for its Cretaceous money--and, in many cases, are better understood by paleontologists than their in-your-face Hollywood relative.

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Balaur (Sergey Krasovskiy).

Balaur (Romanian for "dragon") wasn't much bigger than Velociraptor--about three feet long and 25 pounds--but it diverged otherwise from the typical raptor template. This dinosaur was equipped with two, rather than one, curved claws on each of its hind feet, and it also had an unusually stocky, low-to-the-ground build. The likeliest explanation for these oddities is that Balaur was "insular"--that is, it evolved on an island habitat, and thus lay outside the mainstream of raptor evolution.

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Bambiraptor (Wikimedia Commons).

What can you say about a raptor named after Walt Disney's Bambi, that most gentle and huggable of cartoon animals? Well, for one thing, Bambiraptor wasn't remotely gentle or huggable, though it was fairly tiny (only about two feet long and five pounds). Bambiraptor is notable for having been discovered by a 14-year-old boy during a hike in Montana, and is also famous for its well-preserved type fossil, which has shed valuable light on the evolutionary kinships of North American raptors.

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Deinonychus (Wikimedia Commons).

If life were fair, Deinonychus would be the world's most popular raptor, while Velociraptor would remain an obscure chicken-sized menace from central Asia. But as things turned out, the producers of Jurassic Park decided to model that movie's "Velociraptors" after the much bigger, and much deadlier, Deinonychus, which is now all but ignored by the general public. (It was the North American Deinonychus, by the way, that inspired the theory that modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs.)

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Dromaeosaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

"Raptor" isn't a name that's much favored by paleontologists, who prefer to refer to "dromaeosaurs"--after Dromaeosaurus, an obscure feathered dinosaur with unusually robust jaws and teeth. This "running lizard" isn't well known to the public, despite the fact that it was one of the first raptors ever to be discovered (in Canada's Alberta province, in 1914) and weighed a respectable 30 or so pounds. The current reading on the raptor popularity meter: Velociraptor 900, Dromaeosaurus 5.

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Linheraptor (Julio Lacerda).

One of the newest raptors to join the prehistoric bestiary, Linheraptor was announced to the world in 2010, following the discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved fossil in Inner Mongolia a couple of years earlier. Linheraptor was about twice the size of Velociraptor, which also prowled central Asia during the late Cretaceous period, and it seems to have been most closely related to another contemporaneous raptor that deserves to be better known by the public, Tsaagan.

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Microraptor (Julio Lacerda).
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Rahonavis (Wikimedia Commons).

Like the much earlier Archaeopteryx, Rahonavis is one of those creatures that straddles the line between bird and dinosaur--and, in fact, it was initially identified as a bird after its type fossil was discovered in Madagascar. Today, most paleontologists believe that the one-foot-long, one-pound Rahonavis was a true raptor, albeit one well advanced along the avian branch. (Rahonavis wasn't the only such "missing link," however, since birds likely evolved from dinosaurs multiple times during the Mesozoic Era.)

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Saurornitholestes (Emily Willoughby).

You can understand why a mouthful of a dinosaur like Saurornitholestes (Greek for "lizard-bird thief") might be ignored in favor of Velociraptor. In many ways, though, this comparably sized North American raptor is more interesting, especially since we have direct fossil evidence that it preyed on the giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus. (If it seems unlikely that a lone 30-pound raptor could successfully take on a 200-pound pterosaur, keep in mind that Saurornitholestes may have hunted in cooperative packs.)

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Unenlagia (Wikimedia Commons).

Unenlagia was a true outlier among the raptors of the late Cretaceous period: bigger than most (about 50 pounds); native to South America rather than North America; and equipped with an extra-limber shoulder girdle that may have enabled it to actively flap its birdlike wings. Paleontologists still aren't quite certain how to classify this dinosaur, but most are content to assign it as a raptor closely related to two other unique South American genera, Buitreraptor and Neuquenraptor.

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Utahraptor (Emily Willoughby).

Of all the dinosaurs in this slideshow, Utahraptor has the greatest potential to supplant Velociraptor in popularity: this early Cretaceous raptor was huge (about 1,500 pounds), fierce enough to take down plus-sized herbivores like Iguanodon, and blessed with a headline-friendly name that makes Saurornitholestes and Unenlagia sound like random jumbles of syllables. All its needs is a big-bucks movie directed by a Steven Spielberg protege, and bam! Utahraptor will make it to the tops of the charts.