Thanks to Jurassic Park, Velociraptor is one of the world's most famous dinosaurs--but there's a big difference between the Hollywood version of Velociraptor and the one familiar to paleontologists. Here are 10 facts you may or may not have known about this small but vicious predator. (See a gallery of Velociraptor pictures and a fossil history of Velociraptor.)
1. That wasn't really a Velociraptor in Jurassic Park.
The sad fact is, Velociraptor's claim to pop-culture fame is based on a lie: the movie's special-effects wizards have long since confessed that they modeled their Velociraptor after the much bigger (and much more dangerous-looking) raptor Deinonychus, whose name isn't quite as catchy or easy to pronounce.
2. Velociraptor was about the size of a big chicken...
For a dinosaur that's often mentioned in the same breath as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor was remarkably puny: this carnivore weighed only about 30 pounds fully grown (about the same as a good-sized human toddler) and achieved an awe-inspiring height of two or three feet, max.
3. ...and it looked like a big chicken, too.
Based on the the smaller, more primitive, feathered raptors that predated it by millions of years, paleontologists believe Velociraptor sported feathers, too, though the direct evidence for this is slim. Artists have pictured this dinosaur with everything from wan, chicken-like tufts to bright green plumage worthy of a South American parrot.
4. Velociraptor lived in central Asia, not North America.
Based on its Hollywood treatment, you might expect Velociraptor to be as American as apple pie, but the fact is that this dinosaur was native to modern-day Mongolia (the most famous species is Velociraptor mongoliensis). America Firsters have to settle for its much bigger, and much more deadly, cousins Deinonychus and Utahraptor.
5. There's no evidence that Velociraptor hunted in packs.
To date, all of the dozen or so Velociraptor skeletons found in Mongolia have been of solitary individuals. The idea that Velociraptor ganged up on its prey probably stems from the discovery of associated Deinonychus remains in North America; this raptor may have hunted in packs to bring down large hadrosaurs like Tenontosaurus.
6. Velociraptor wasn't the smartest dinosaur of the Cretaceous period...
While we're on the subject: that scene in Jurassic Park where a Velociraptor figures out how to turn a doorknob? Pure fantasy. Even the smartest dinosaur of the Mesozoic Era, Troodon, was dumber than a newborn kitten, and it's a safe bet that no reptiles (ancient or modern) have ever learned to use tools.
7. ...and it wasn't the fastest, either.
Not to beat up on poor little Velociraptor, but this "speedy thief" (that's what Velociraptor's name means) wasn't nearly as fast as contemporary ornithomimids, or "bird mimics," some of which could attain speeds of 50 miles per hour. Even the fastest Velociraptors would have been severely hampered by their short, turkey-sized legs.
8. A Velociraptor was fossilized in the act of attacking a Protoceratops.
So Velociraptor didn't hunt in packs, and it wasn't particularly big or speedy. How did it survive? Well, by attacking comparably small dinosaurs like the pig-sized Protoceratops: one famous fossil shows a Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in combat as both were buried alive by a sudden sandstorm. (See this article for an analysis of how this battle might have turned out.)
9. Velociraptor's main weapons were its single, oversized hind claws.
Although its sharp teeth were certainly unpleasant, the primary weapons in Velociraptor's arsenal were the curved, three-inch-long claws on its hind feet, which it used to slash and jab at prey. It's possible that this raptor stabbed its prey in sudden, surprise attacks, then withdrew to a safe distance as its victim bled to death.
10. Velociraptor was probably warm-blooded.
Cold-blooded lizards don't excel at pursuing and savagely attacking their prey (think of crocodiles, which are content to lay patiently in wait). That fact, combined with its probable coating of feathers, leads paleontologists to believe that Velociraptor had a warm-blooded metabolism comparable to that of modern birds and mammals.