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Contrary to what you might have seen in the movies, textbooks, and other pictorial representations, velociraptors were actually only about the size of a domesticated turkey, being only about 3 feet tall and 6 feet long, with most of the length coming from the tail.  They also only weighed in at around 20-30 pounds, full-grown. More than that, they actually looked somewhat like a turkey, but with a very long tail.

As it turns out, velociraptors were very similar to birds in a lot of ways. They had hollow bones, feathers, built nests for their eggs, and are thought to have behaved very similar to birds.

In fact, we now know that dinosaurs and birds are intimately related by evolution, and that feathered dinosaurs were somewhat common.

“Non-avian Dinosaurs” and Birds

The fact is that many dinosaurs and birds are intimately related by evolutionary ties. In fact, dinosaurs are not extinct, technically. Based on features of the skeleton, most scientists studying dinosaurs consider birds to be dinosaurs. This shocking realization makes even the smallest hummingbird a legitimate dinosaur. So rather than refer to “dinosaurs” and birds as discrete, separate groups, it is best to refer to the traditional, extinct animals as “non-avian dinosaurs” and birds as, well, birds, or “avian dinosaurs.” It is incorrect to say that dinosaurs are extinct, because they have left living descendants in the form of cockatoos, cassowaries etc.,  just like modern vertebrates are still vertebrates even though their Cambrian ancestors are long extinct.

Click to enlarge

As Mark Norell, curator of fossil reptiles, amphibians, and birds at the American Museum of Natural History, stated:

The more that we learn about these animals the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like velociraptor. Both have wishbones; brooded their nests; possess hollow bones; and were covered in feathers. If animals like velociraptor were alive today, our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds.

Representative fossil evidence for dinosaurs with feathers. (the dark spots on this fossil are the feathers)

Furthermore, the “velociraptor” presented in the movie Jurassic Park was actually a deinonychus. The deinonychus were also raptors, but were significantly bigger than the velociraptors, coming in at about 12 feet long, about 6 feet tall, and weighing about 150 pounds full-grown. Picture the “velociraptor” in Jurassic Park and you get a pretty good idea of what the deinonychus were thought to have looked like (although there still is some debate over whether they too had feathers). The deinonychus also were thought to have occasionally hunted in packs (similar to their portrayal in the movie) to bring down larger prey and were thought to have been very fast.

Bonus Science Stuff

The name “velociraptor” comes from the Latin “velox”, meaning “swift”, and “raptor”, meaning “robber” or “plunderer”. The name was chosen by paleontologist Henry F. Osborn in 1924, after he discovered the fossil in Mongolia that same year.

Much like chickens and turkeys, velociraptors also had similar looking claws, but in the velociraptors’ case with the middle claw being retractable. It could extend out to about 3 inches for stabbing and slashing and was the velociraptors’ primary weapon. This is similar to the spurs on a rooster or male turkey.

Velociraptors were also probably warm-blooded.  They are thought to have had about the same metabolism as the kiwi, which is similar in anatomy, feather type, bone structure, and nasal passages; the latter of which is usually a good indicator of metabolism in animals.  Also, cold-blooded animals typically won’t pursue prey; they prefer to lie in wait until the prey comes to them. Velociraptors clearly were evolved to pursue prey.

[Reposted (with editing) from Misconception Junction]