by AMNH on
Today’s birds are descended from a group of dinosaurs known as theropods. This group included many species of dinosaurs, from the towering Tyrannosaurus rex to the more diminutive Velociraptor.
Surprised that Velociraptor is so small? In Jurassic Park, the look and behavior of the now-famous predators was based on Deinonychus, a much larger and more terrifying creature. But the name Velociraptor was more dramatic and easier to say, and a star was born. Thanks to its star turn, Velociraptor is one of the most famous non-bird dinosaurs in the world.
This Hollywood star also has many features that mark it as a close relative of modern birds. The bird-like traits of Velociraptor included hinged ankles, swivel-jointed wrists, and a furcula, or wishbone. The animal’s feet are bird-like, too, with three forward-facing toes—though a horny sheath would have covered the toe and finger bones you see, doubling their size. Living birds and reptiles—as well as non-bird dinosaurs—also have a bony ring in each eye socket.
Feathered and Flightless
Velociraptor was covered in thin filaments, and the feathers on its tail and forearms would look right at home on a living bird, though this animal was flightless. Velociraptor was a fierce predator, chasing prey on two legs. But even this behavior is bird-like; most birds spend more time walking than flying, and only a few catch prey on the wing.
See fossil casts and a life-sized model of Velociraptor, along with many other dinosaurs and early birds, in Dinosaurs Among Us, now on view.