A model of a velociraptor
Velociraptor, meaning roughly "fast thief", is a genus of small, agile and slender dinosaurs with up-curved skulls and large sickle claws. They are commonly known as raptors, a name which can also refer to other dromaeosaurids.
Claws and teeth
Velociraptors had strong jaws with rows of bladed teeth. These, in combination with very big claws on their forelimbs and on one of their toes (the size of these claws could reach up to the length of the teeth on extinct sabertooth cats) gave the animals some impressive weaponry.
There is some evidence of how these weapons were used: one of the more spectacular specimens of Velociraptor is a complete, articulated skeleton clutching the skeleton of the dinosaur Protoceratops. The slashing toe claw is where the Protoceratops throat would have been, and the Velociraptor arm is clutched in the herbivore's jaws. The dinosaurs may have been caught in a sandstorm or buried as a sand dune fell on top of them.
Velociraptors are among the most birdlike dinosaurs known. Recently, fossils of dinosaurs closely related to Velociraptor have been found in China with downy feathers on their bodies, and some even have flight feathers on their arms. It is therefore likely that Velociraptor bore feathers too, although no fossil evidence has yet confirmed this.
One of the more unusual features of these animals is that the tail is stiffened by elongated bones. Though sometimes referred to as ossified tendons, they are actually just incredibly lengthened versions of bones most amniotes use to articulate vertebrae together, termed prezygopophyses. The chevrons (bones that attach to the bottom of the tail vertebrae) were also highly elongated.
The Velociraptor has a skull length of 249 mm (9.80 in), a total length of 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in), a hip height of 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in), and weighs 15 kg (35 lb).
Jurassic Park film
The name Velociraptor is well-known from the novel and film Jurassic Park, but the dinosaurs portrayed there were actually modelled after a larger relative, Deinonychus. It is from this movie that the Velociraptor became popularly known as the raptor. Velociraptor itself was only about the size of a coyote. Although it is possible that the animals hunted in packs (as in the movie) there is no strong fossil evidence to support this idea.