VELOCIRAPTOR (vel-OS-ih-RAP-tore)

Period: Late Cretaceous

Order, Suborder, Family: Saurischia, Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae

Location: Asia (Mongolia)

Length: 6 feet (1.8 meters)

The most amazing find in Mongolia may be the discovery of the skeletons of the small theropod Velociraptor ("speedy predator") with its right arm clamped firmly in the beak of the small ceratopsian Protoceratops. Both skeletons are complete. They are a picture of a Late Cretaceous struggle to the death. Soon after their deaths, they were buried by the drifting sands of a dune. They laid together in this death pose until 1971, when they were unearthed.

In 1923, the first specimen of Velociraptor was found by the American Museum of Natural History. Like the famous death-pose specimen, it was found in the Late Cretaceous sandstones of the Djadokhta Formation in the Gobi Desert. And, like the death-pose specimen, it was found lying alongside a skull of Protoceratops.

Velociraptor was a small theropod, with a large sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of its foot. It had a low, narrow snout, which is different from other members of its family. The jaws were lined with serrated teeth for tearing flesh. It swallowed its food in gulps instead of chewing, like most theropods. The arms were long and it had strong chest and arm muscles. It looked much like the early bird Archaeopteryx, especially its pelvis. Some paleontologists have suggested that Velociraptor might have had feathers, but there is no proof for this theory.

Since the death-pose specimen was found with a Protoceratops, it probably ate this small ceratopsian, but it may have hunted even larger prey. Its diet also" included small animals, such as lizards.

Another dromaeosaurid feature that can be clearly seen in the death-pose specimen are the long pieces of bone along the sides of the bones of the tail to stiffen it. This allowed the tail to act as a balance when the animal walked and ran. The tail, however, was still flexible, especially where it was attached to the hips. The complete "struggle to the death" skeleton has not yet been described, but it will certainly reveal even more new and exciting facts about this fascinating genus.