Name Meaning: Speedy Thief
Geologic Era: Late Cretaceous
Location Discovered: Mongolia
Size: 1.5-1.7 meters long
Estimated Range: Modern Mongolia and China
Extinction Date: Late Cretaceous (72 million years ago)
A dinosaur name that many are familiar with, Velociraptor does not quite match up to its movie counterpart. While the raptors of the Jurassic Park movie series were as tall and a man and about twice as long, the real Velociraptor was around half that size. It would have been roughly the height of a German Shepherd, and had a body mass of roughly 25 kilograms (about 55 lbs).
By no means does the above mean that Velociraptor was not a force to be reckoned with in its habitat. Armed with a strongly muscled body, sharp eyesight, a mouthful of backward curving teeth, and the famous raptor “kill claw” on each hind foot, Velociraptor would have been a fast and deadly predator. Velociraptor’s relatively flexible neck and torso were counterbalanced by a stiff tail, which would have added even more agility to an already swift animal.
Our specimens may be casts, but it is true to the size of the real animal. The most striking features on the skull are the large orbital fenestra and the overall lightness of the skull. One could easily picture this animal hunting in packs as modern wolves do, though we have no direct evidence for this behavior. There is some evidence that related dinosaurs such as Deinonychus may have been pack hunters, so the idea that its relative Velociraptor did as well is not out of the realm of possibility.
Our skull cast also has the distinction of being one of the few fossils in the collection that I have named. Our skull is called “Speedy,” and he has been known to make appearances on students’ desks should they make the mistake of trying to sleep in class. I imagine it is somewhat unnerving to open one’s eyes to a skeletal mouthful of teeth.
One of the more spectacular finds in fossil history is associated with Velociraptor and its contemporary, Protoceratops. The beautifully complete fossil shows the two animals locked in combat. The Protoceratops has its jaws biting the forelimb of Velociraptor, while the Velociraptor’s hind claw is lodged in the Protocereatops’ throat. We will never be certain what caused this confrontation, or if events like it were a frequent occurrence. Regardless, both animals died simultaneously, possibly from a sandstorm or dune collapse. The result was a marvelous fossil that gives us a snapshot into the lives of these long extinct animals.
Life Restoration: By Fred Wierum – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63257512
Skeleton: By Ben Townsend from Blacksburg, Virginia – 148 Wyoming Dinosaur CenterUploaded by FunkMonk, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11362981
“Fighting Dinosaurs” Fossil:By Yuya Tamai from Gifu, Japan (2014-03-25 13.04.52) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons