Velociraptors – also known as “Raptors” – were meat-eating dinosaurs that lived in Mongolia during the Late Cretaceous, around 75 million years ago. For a long time, they were fairly obscure dinosaurs, until the movie Jurassic Park skyrocketed them to popularity in 1993. Since then, they’ve become one of the most iconic and well-known dinosaurs around, appearing in video games, comics, toy lines, and more movies in the Jurassic Park franchise including The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, as well as Jurassic World and its upcoming sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. But how much did the real dinos resemble the on-screen versions?
Honestly, the answer is “not a whole lot”. To be fair, however, much more is known about Velociraptor today that wasn’t known in 1993. Recent discoveries have given scientists more insight into how these dinos looked, but outdated images persist thanks to the impact of the dinosaur’s appearance in movies and other media.
Large VS Little
One thing that was known about Raptors in 1993 was how large they were. While some of its relatives could grow quite large, Velociraptor itself was six feet long, and stood just under two feet tall at the hip. The versions seen in movies, however, were about two or three times that size. This actually made them closer in size to Velociraptor’s American relative Deinonychus.
"Clappers" VS "Slappers"
Another inaccuracy involves the hands. Movies, children’s books and other sources often show many Theropods – not just Velociraptor – holding their arms with the palm of their hands facing downward, a position known as “pronated”. Based on fossil evidence, it is known that most Theropods, including Velociraptor, could not pronate their wrists, so their palms faced inward, towards each other, rather than downward toward the ground.
(classic reconstruction with scales and pronated wrists)
(updated with non-pronated wrists and feathers)
Scary Scales VS Fluffy Feathers
Then there’s the big one. As we’ve mentioned many times in previous blogs, modern day birds are actually dinosaurs, and are the direct descendants of Theropods similar to Velociraptor. Knowing this, it may not shock you to know that Velociraptor was actually almost entirely covered in feathers. If you could go back in time to the Cretaceous to see one of these dinos firsthand, it would almost certainly remind you of a bird more than anything reptilian. The scaly appearance of Velociraptor in the movies, while popular and perhaps more menacing, is just flat out incorrect.
Birds (and Dinos) of a Feather...
How do we know this? Paleontologists have ample evidence. We’ve long known that some dinosaurs were feathered, ever since the discovery of the very bird-like Archaeopteryx back in 1861. But recently, more evidence shows that feathered dinos might have been more the norm than the exception to the rule. Fossil remains of relatives of Velociraptor, including Microraptor, Sinornithosaurus and many others have been preserved with clear impressions of feathers covering their bodies, rather than scales.
(an early feathered dinosaur from the Jurassic Period sometimes called "the First Bird")
(a Velociraptor relative known to have wing-like feathers on both its arms and legs)
While no fossils of Velociraptor itself have been found with feather impressions, their arm bones feature structures called “quill knobs” that are only found in animals that have feathers. Because of these factors, it’s almost certain that Velociraptor’s body wasn’t scaly, but downright fluffy.
So why does the image of the scaly Raptor endure, even though it’s been proven wrong? Well, movie Raptors are often meant to be more scary than scientifically accurate, and a more reptilian Velociraptor plays up phobias that the general public tends to have of scaly things like snakes and alligators. Another reason is that it’s just plain hard to change peoples’ minds once a particular image is established in their heads, even though it’s been shown to be incorrect.
Personally, at Safari Ltd, we think Velociraptors are just as cool as they always have been, feathers and all!
Check out all of our Velociraptor Toys: