“Try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period. You get your first look at this “six foot turkey” as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement like T-Rex – he’ll lose you if you don’t move. But no, not Velociraptor. You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two ‘raptors you didn’t even know were there. Because Velociraptor’s a pack hunter, you see, he uses coordinated attack patterns and he is out in force today. And he slashes at you with this… a six-inch retractable claw, like a razor, on the the middle toe. He doesn’t bother to bite your jugular like a lion, say… no no. He slashes at you here… or here… or maybe across the belly, spilling your intestines. The point is… you are alive when they start to eat you. So you know… try to show a little respect.” Dr. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park
It’s been almost 20 years since Spielberg stoked our imaginations with fossils of 2 meter-tall, hyperintelligent, scaly-skinned Velociraptors in Montana that disemboweled their prey. Many fossil collectors would of course know that while these swift therapods did have sickle-shaped claws, large brain cavities, likely featured an excellent sense of smell, hearing, and binocular vision, and were 6 – 7 feet long, velociraptors were in fact just about 3 feet tall. Most of its length was its tail! Spielberg had actually dramatised the movie by portraying what appeared more like the Velociraptor’s relatives (likely the Deinonychus, rather than the larger Utahraptor)!
Still, one of the most dynamic stories that dinosaur fossils have ever told, is the death grip pose of a Protoceratops with a Velociraptor, discovered by a Polish-Mongolian expedition in the Late triassic sandstones of the Djadokhta Formation in the Tugrugeen Shireh locality in Mongolian province of ‘ Ömnögovi in 1971. This is one of the most classic fossils, and features the injured ceratopsian biting onto a Velociraptor leg in defence as both of them were probably soon buried postmortem by either a sandstorm or mudslide.
First discovered in 1923, Velociraptors lived in the Late Cretaceous. Only about a dozen Velociraptor fossils have ever been found, but because they have been found close to each other, they are believed to have lived and hunted in packs. They were small creatures, with fully-grown adults weighing about 15kg. The forearm of one Velociraptor (specimen number IGM 100/981) discovered in 2007 featured quill knobs, which indicated that they almost certainly had some feathers. Despite their hollow bones, their weight – forelimb proportions meant that they were probably flightless and that the feathers served other purposes such as for displays, temperature control, or to add speed. Their speed meant that they were likely warm-blooded, and the ‘cute features’ of baby Velociraptor fossils – bigger eyes and shorter snouts – indicated that they were likely looked after by their parents. Interestingly, their ulna and radius forearm bones could not rotate, and tests performed with an anatomically-accurate robot Velociraptor arm indicated that it more likely used its sickle claw to puncture the jugular or windpipe of its prey, rather than for disembowelment.
So here’s the legend, an actual Velociraptor claw!