What did the Velociraptor Really Look Like?

Quick!  Picture a velociraptor!

If I were a betting man, I'd wager your mind most likely conjured up an image not unlike this:

All the hallmarks are there: 6 feet tall with scaly, reptilian skin, cold stares, and the infamous curved claw on the foot.   In fact velociraptors are one of the most well-known species of dinosaurs thanks to Michael Critchton's novel, Jurassic Park and the Steven Spielberg-helmed film adaptation of the same name.

Smart, fast and utterly unstoppable these douche-bags haunted my nightmares, and the nightmares of countless other 90s kids for years.  Serving as antagonists in all three films as well as Critchton's novels Jurassic Park  and the Lost World, they offered up most of the series most visceral, terrifying carnage.  But to all you 90s kids who stayed awake at night, terrified of 6-foot-tall killing machines suddenly popping out of your closet and devouring you in your bed let me offer up some good news and some bad news.

First the bad news.  The attack would not come from the raptor your closet.  It would come from the two raptors hiding under your bed and behind your headboard.  Raptors hunt in packs and will always catch you in a trap.  Seriously, if they could fool that B-A Australian warden from the film, they would easily be able to fool some kid in his Arthur pajamas.

Now the good news.  Velociraptors were not nearly as terrifying in real-life as they are in Jurassic Park.  Case in point: Take a look at this artist's rendering of what scientists now believe the velociraptor looked like:

Okay, so velociraptors were slightly more feathery than their fictional counterparts, so what?  It's still as tall as a grown man with hyper-intelligence and a menacing death claw on its foot? Well hold on to your butts, because I am not done shattering the image of your childhood nightmare-stalker.  

Let's take a look at how big these bad boys (or in the case of Jurassic Park, bad girls) were:

What the heck?  You mean to tell me that all these years I've been afraid of Jurassic Turkeys?  What gives?!  Okay, first of all, turkeys are mean as crap.  Seriously, don't mess with them.  They can, and will mess you up. Secondly, if there was a pack of these things nipping at you, you would be in some serious trouble.

So why are the velociraptors in the novels and the films so darned big and reptilian looking?  The answer to that is quite simple: we did not know for sure if raptors had feathers back in the 80s and 90s when the novel was written and the film was made.  In fact, the presence of feathers on velociraptors was not confirmed until 2007 when paleontologists discovered quill knobs on a velociraptor  in Mongolia.

So why are they so big?  Is it just the result of Michael Crichton over-exagerating the size of the creatures for dramatic effect?  Nope.  It turns out around the time Critchon wrote his novel a new type of raptor was found.  It was believed to be a much larger variation of the velociraptor. In fact the discovery was actually an entirely new species called Achillobator giganticus.  

By the time Universal Studios started production on the film adaptation, another subspecies of raptor, the Deinonychus had been reclassified as Velociraptor antirrhopus. ecause they were much larger, the production company decided to base the film's elociraptors on the more menacing Deinonychus, which incidentally looked something like this, back in the day:

Thats...sort of close to what we got in the films, right?  Huh.  It's actually MORE terrifying than what we got in the films.

 

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