Anyway, this isn’t a review of Jurassic World: we’re here to talk about dromaeosaurs (yeah, not ‘raptors’: sorry, Jurassic fans, but another set of dinosaurs have held priority to ‘raptor’ since 1873). The velociraptors are back in force in Jurassic World, in all their leathery-skinned, broken-wristed, overtoothed glory. Of all the Jurassic World dinosaurs, the velociraptors have moved furthest from being relatively ‘believable’ animals in the first movie to the realm of true sci-fi monster. By Jurassic World, the behavioural and physical attributes they’ve gained in each sequel has finally made them totally unstoppable killing machines, demonstrably invulnerable to all damage except when the script calls for it (and thus largely removing their potential for being thrilling characters or antagonists. Oh, wait, we're not reviewing the film!). Inspired by their movie cousins, I thought I’d share some recently completed dromaeosaurid palaeoart here. Without appreciating it, presenting these three images together acts as a foil to the Jurassic depiction of dromaeosaurs, showing these animals as exploitative and flawed creatures, and as products of natural evolution, rather than reptilian versions of Geiger’s Alien. As usual, prints of all these images are available to purchase from my print store.
Velociraptor: picking on the little guy
|Famous dromaeosaurid Velociraptor mongoliensis chases a juvenile oviraptorosaur, Citipati osmolskae. The oviraptorosaur parent doesn't approve.|
First up is Velociraptor mongoliensis, the dog-sized namesake of the Jurassic dromaeosaurs. In this revised image (the first version of which topped another Jurassic World inspired piece) Velociraptor is shown predating a much smaller theropod, a juvenile oviraptorosaur Citipati osmolskae. The idea emphasised here is that, like most predators, Velociraptor probably hunted easily dispatched and overpowered prey, like juvenile animals, rather than larger, more dangerous individuals. A distressed oviraptorosaur parent is shown in the background as attempting to scare the predator off, arms extended, jaws agape, probably making a lot of noise. It strikes me this is the ‘classic’ palaeoart pose so often depicted as leaping from canvases to our faces – I think it works a lot better in the context of a full scene rather than in isolation. The Velociraptor is adorned with two small feather fans on its snout, structures for which we have no direct evidence, but which don’t seem too audacious in light of some cranial display features of modern predators.
|Deinonychus antirrhopus: Deadly. Savage. Clumsy.|
Next is another famous dromaeosaur, the North American species Deinonychus antirrhopus. This image was commissioned by ReBecca Hunt-Foster for the Utah Bureau of Land Management, as part of a public display on the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite. This Cedar Mountain Formation locality, once a scummy, slimy shallow body of water, preserves a multitude of sauropod, ornithopod and theropod tracks, including several belonging to dromaeosaurs. We call these tracks Dromaeosauripus, and at Mill Canyon their most likely trackmaker is Deinoynchus, it being a Cedar Mountain Formation species of correct stratigraphic provenance and appropriate size to make these specific Dromaeosauripus traces. Some of the Mill Canyon Dromaeosauripus tracks record running animals, which is pretty neat: it’s hard not to wonder what impetus made these animals charge over the Mill Canyon microbial mat 100 million years ago.
Alongside some of these tracks are long gouges in the ancient mud seemingly made by two-toed animals losing their grip on the substate, wobbling about before regaining their balance – are these the tracks of noble Deinonychus almost falling over? Quite possibly, although it’s not definite that they record the same individuals as those leaving the charging Dromaeosauripus prints.
ReBecca thought it would be fun to demonstrate that some Mill Canyon dinosaurs weren’t the most sure-footed of creatures, and requested my services to do so. I was happy to do this. In any sustained bout of animal observation it becomes apparent that all species routinely trip, slip and blunder about in the way that we do, and recreating this seemed a wonderful alternative to our regular diet of epic and ‘awesome’ palaeoart. The fact this image features Deinonychus is even better: even outside of Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurs are regularly depicted as particularly ferocious, cunning predators, earning them the nickname of ‘lions of the Cretaceous’. Well, awesomebros, here's our noble, cunning Cretaceous lion picking a whole bunch of oopsie-daisies, while a couple of normal Deinonychus prey items – Tenontosaurus – look out from the far distance and laugh.
Achillobator: giant dromaeosaur, silly hat
|Giant Mongolian dromaeosaurid Achillobator giganticus ominously excavating the burrow of a small dinosaur. Azhdarchid pterosaurs gather to collect the dislodged bugs.|
Of course, this image and concept is little more than an All Yesterdays-style speculation – to be honest, we don’t really have enough of the Achillobator skeleton to know exactly what it did for a living. Nevertheless, following another run with the Jurassic movies, I find it refreshing, grounding and intriguing to think of large dromaeosaurs as real products of evolution, as creatures adapted to the environment they lived in, and the species they coexisted with. As is often the case, reality ends up being far more interesting than fiction.
OK, that’s all for now. If you’d like to know more about the diversity of ‘real’ dromaeosaurs and other feathered dinosaurs, I heartily recommend Matthew Martyniuk’s excellent Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs.