10 Facts About the Velociraptor Dinosaur

velociraptor model
Feathered model of Velociraptor showing sharp teeth.

Thanks to the "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic World" movies, the Velociraptor is one of the world's most well-known dinosaurs. However, there's a huge difference between the Hollywood version of the Velociraptor and the less imposing one familiar to paleontologists. How much do you really know about this surprisingly small, vicious predator?

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Those Aren't Really Velociraptors in the 'Jurassic Park' Movies

Deinonychus skeleton on display.
Deinonychus skeleton in a running stance.

AStrangerintheAlps/Wikimedia Commons

It's a sad fact that the Velociraptor's claim to pop-culture fame in "Jurassic Park" is based on a lie. The special-effects wizards have long since confessed that they modeled their Velociraptor after the much bigger (and much more dangerous-looking) raptor Deinonychus antirrhopus, whose name isn't quite as catchy or as easy to pronounce and who lived about 30 million years before its more famous relative. "Jurassic World" had the chance to set the record straight, but it stuck with the big Velociraptor fib. If life were fair, Deinonychus would be a much better-known dinosaur than the Velociraptor, but that's the way the "Jurassic" amber crumbles. 

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Velociraptor Had Feathers, not Scaly, Reptilian Skin

3d illustration of Velociraptor
An artist's rendering of Velociraptor with scales and no feathers.

Geerati/Getty Images

Extrapolating from the smaller, more primitive, feathered raptors that predated it by millions of years, paleontologists believe Velociraptors sported feathers, too, due to having quill knobs, just like today's birds, on their bones where feathers would have attached. Artists have depicted this dinosaur as possessing everything from pale, colorless, chicken-like tufts to green plumage worthy of a South American parrot. Whatever the case, Velociraptor almost certainly wasn't lizard-skinned, as it's portrayed in the "Jurassic" movies. (Assuming Velociraptors needed to sneak up on their prey, we're on safer ground assuming that they weren't too brightly feathered.)

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Velociraptor Was About the Size of a Big Chicken

A 3D illustration of a velociraptor chasing a rat sized mammal.
A Velociraptor chasing a rat-sized mammal.

Daniel Eskridge/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

For a dinosaur that's often mentioned in the same breath as Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor was remarkably puny. This meat-eater weighed only approximately 30 pounds soaking wet (about the same as a good-sized human toddler) and was just 2 feet tall and 6 feet long. In fact, it would take six or seven adult Velociraptors to equal one average-sized Deinonychus, 500 to match a full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex, and 5,000 or so to equal the weight of one good-sized titanosaur —but who's counting? (Certainly not the people who script Hollywood movies.)

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There's No Evidence That Velociraptors Hunted in Packs

A Velociraptor skeleton with short turkey-sized legs. Wyoming Dinosaur Center

To date, all of the dozen or so identified Velociraptor specimens have been of solitary individuals. The idea that Velociraptors ganged up on their prey in cooperative packs probably stems from the discovery of associated Deinonychus remains in North America. This larger raptor may have hunted in packs to bring down larger duck-billed dinosaurs such as Tenontosaurus, but there's no particular reason to extrapolate those findings to Velociraptor. But then again, there's no particular reason not to.

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The Velociraptor's IQ Has Been Wildly Exaggerated

Velociraptor skull.
The skull and brain cavity of Velociraptor.

Smokeybjb/Wikimedia Commons

Remember that scene in "Jurassic Park " where a Velociraptor figures out how to turn a doorknob? Pure fantasy. Even the putatively smartest dinosaur of the Mesozoic Era, Troodon, was probably dumber than a newborn kitten, and it's a safe bet that no reptiles (extinct or extant) have ever learned how to use tools, with the possible exception of the American alligator. A real-life Velociraptor would likely have butted its head against that closed kitchen door until it knocked itself out and then its hungry pal would have feasted on its remains.

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Velociraptors Lived in Central Asia, Not North America

3D illustration of a male and female velociraptor mongoliensis over human female.
Velociraptor mongoliensis from the late Cretaceous Mongolia.

Christian Masnaghetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Given its red-carpet treatment in Hollywood, you might expect Velociraptors to have been as American as apple pie, but the fact is that this dinosaur lived in what is now modern-day Mongolia about 70 million years ago (the most famous species is named Velociraptor mongoliensis). America Firsters in need of a native raptor will have to settle for Velociraptor's much bigger and much deadlier cousins Deinonychus and Utahraptor, the latter of which weighed as much as 1,500 pounds fully grown and was the largest raptor that ever lived.

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Velociraptor's Main Weapons Were Its Single, Curved Hind Claws

velociraptor claw
Model of a curved hind claw of Velociraptor.

Ballista/Wikimedia Commons

Although its sharp teeth and clutching hands were certainly unpleasant, the go-to weapons in Velociraptor's arsenal were the single, curved, 3-inch-long claws on each of its hind feet, which it used to slash, jab, and disembowel prey. Paleontologists surmise that a Velociraptor stabbed its prey in the gut in sudden, surprise attacks, then withdrew to a safe distance as its victim bled to death (a strategy emulated millions of years later by the saber-toothed tiger, which leaped on its prey from the low branches of trees).

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Velociraptor Wasn't as Speedy as Its Name Implies

A feathered replica of a Velociraptor at the edge of a forest. Alain Beneteau

The name Velociraptor​ translates from the Greek as "speedy thief," and it wasn't nearly as fast as contemporary ornithomimids or "bird mimic" dinosaurs, some of which could attain speeds of up to 40 or 50 mph. Even the fastest Velociraptors would have been severely hampered by their short, turkey-sized legs and could have easily been outrun by an athletic human child. It's possible, though, that these predators could have attained more "lift" in mid-stride with the aid of their presumably feathered arms.

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Velociraptor Enjoyed Lunching on Protoceratops

velociraptor and protoceratops
A lone Velociraptor encounters two Protoceratops. Andrey Atuchin

Velociraptors weren't particularly big, smart, or speedy, so how did they survive the unforgiving ecosystem of late Cretaceous Central Asia? Well, by attacking comparably small dinosaurs such as the pig-sized Protoceratops. One famous fossil specimen preserves a Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in life-and-death combat as they were both buried alive by a sudden sandstorm (and judging by the evidence, it's far from obvious that Velociraptor had the upper hand when they perished. It looks like Protoceratops got in some good licks and may even have been on the brink of breaking free).

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Velociraptor May Have Been Warm-Blooded, Like Modern Mammals

3D illustration of velociraptor mongoliensis.
Velociraptor mongoliensis from the late Cretaceous Mongolia.

Christian Masnaghetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Cold-blooded reptiles don't excel at actively pursuing and savagely attacking their prey (think of crocodiles patiently hovering under water until a terrestrial animal ventures too close to the river's edge). That fact, combined with Velociraptor's probable coat of feathers, leads paleontologists to conclude that this raptor (and many other meat-eating dinosaurs, including tyrannosaurs and "dino-birds") possessed a warm-blooded metabolism comparable to those of modern birds and mammals—and was able to generate its own internal energy rather than relying entirely on the sun.