Velociraptors were actually pretty lame

They were the size of turkeys, had the brains of ostriches and probably could have been fought off with a good kick.

I’m pretty clearly in a minority on Jurassic World. Audiences seem to be lapping it up; it’s box office taking currently exceeds the GDP of Gambia by several hundred million dollars. Nonethless, I felt it’s human characters were lazy stereotypes there solely to deliver ‘well duh’ worthy exposition. Where the original generated genuine awe, this one keeps telling you that you are being awed before presenting you with something that looks like a so-so episode of Walking with Dinosaurs. And its gender politics are as bad as Our Lord Joss predicted they would be.

But one thing even I think it got right is maintaining the menacing appeal of the velociraptors, all the more heightened because this time they may be lulling the human characters into a false sense of security. They might lack the raw power of the T-Rex but they more than make up for it with cunning and the ability to work together to bring about our downfall.

Unfortunately (or if humanity ever does start bringing dinosaurs back, fortunately) the real things were rather less impressive. The New York Times spoke to a number of paleontologists who explained that raptors were about the size of a turkey with the feathers to match, lacked the facial muscles to snarl and had to contend with with overflexible wrists and tails. Indeed, the article quotes one paleontologist saying:

“If you had a good pair of work boots you could kick it in the head and it wouldn’t be frightening”.

Credit: Peter Minster

Our best guess at what an actual velociraptor would have looked like

As for their intelligence I’m not sure that’s quite up to what the Jurassic film suggests. An article on the Smithsonian website, says that based on their brain-body weight ratio they were probably among the smartest dinosaurs. Disappointingly, that’s not saying much and they’d only be about as smart as an ostrich.

I also found a post on a blog hosted by the University of Berkley commenting on the claim in Jurassic Park III that raptors were “smarter than dolphins, smarter than primates”. In fact:

They had modestly large brains but those brains were nowhere near as elaborate as the brains of mammals or even most modern birds. If relative brain size is any measure of intelligence, dromaeosaurs were just a little smarter than typical dinosaurs. Not geniuses by mammalian standards.

So the particularly chilling moment in the original film where human characters realise that the raptors pursuing them can open doors probably wouldn’t have happened. Indeed, it stands to reason that if your cat would struggle to figure something out, it would almost certainly have defeated a raptor.

[Spoiler] Hence it seems exceedingly far fetched to claim as Jurassic World does that because it has raptor DNA, the fictional Indominus Rex would be smart enough to: leave claw marks on its enclosure to make it captors think it has climbed out, then exploit its tree frog DNA to make its thermal signature disappear, then lie in wait for humans to open its enclosure, before finally clawing out its tracking implant and going on a rampage.

So in conclusion, velociraptors have been significantly overhyped and are much less impressive than generally thought. Rather like a certain summer blockbuster currently showing at a cinema near you.

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7 thoughts on “Velociraptors were actually pretty lame

  1. The movie kind of followed what jurassic park had said before and that one made the velociraptor sound vicious and cunning. It also cleared up that the dinosaurs look was not actually the real one but the one the company wanted for greater shock value.
    Expecting a blockbuster to give you facts or true data is rather naive you shoud´nt hate on a movie so clearly made for entertainment porposes.

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  3. If you say that the image of the small sized, feathered, and possibly flight-capable velociraptor is lame… You have a curious definition about what IS lame and what is not.

    Keep in mind that it has been proved that Raptors were able to hunt down preys WAY bigger than themselves, they didn’t just “Kick”: They rended the flesh of their oponents with their claws. And since they were the smarter dinosaurs, they could fool anybody!

    Yes, Maybe, JUST MAYBE, they didn’t have the technology of Homo Sapiens, but a pack of raptors was dangerous to bigger dinosaurs, and… maybe they could be dangerous to a unsuspecting Homo Sapiens!

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    • Of course! Apologises for not doing so earlier.

      I assume you mean for the picture. I’ve done something quick and simple in the caption for it but if you have something particular in mind – perhaps a link to a website – then let me know.

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