‘Jurassic Park’ may have undergone an expansion to become ‘Jurassic World’, but if there is one unifying element in all the movies, it is the raptor – the intelligent, social pack-hunting dinosaur. This fan-favorite has undergone serious character development since the 1993 hit movie. ‘Jurassic Park’ essentially created  a worldwide obsession with raptors: loyal companions like dogs, coordinated group-hunters like wolves, and clever hunters than can take down larger prey.  However, how much of this science fiction is actually fiction? Were Velociraptors actually pack-hunters? 

Of course, it’s not possible to actually investigate real raptors these days, but scientists can use living relatives, modern reptiles like Komodo dragons and crocodiles, to make educated inferences. Both of these groups hunt the same animals as adults, but these living counterparts of dinosaurs never hunt in packs, and researchers have associated this lack of social hunting with  other asocial habits, such as eating their own young. The young Komodo dragon’s dietary diversity is a result of the babies escaping to live in trees to avoid being eaten by adults and finding a larger variety of food in trees. The researchers claim this dietary diversity early in life is rarely found in pack-hunting animals, where the old and the young share food. 

And the old adage is true – you are what you eat. The chemical composition of the body is directly dictated by diet, and specifically the teeth of young and old members of a pack should have the same chemical composition, or close to it. If raptors were not pack hunters, on the other hand, then the chemical composition of young and old teeth should be different. Researchers analysed tooth carbonate of D. antirrhopus (the actual animal Jurassic Park’s raptors are based on) and crocodilians from excavation microsites dating back to the Cretaceous Period (145-66 million years ago) by using stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen. Both the Cretaceous crocodilians and raptors’ smallest and largest teeth showed different average carbon isotope values, indicating differences in diet. That is, they consumed different prey as they grew. Such behavior, similar to modern asocial reptiles, is typical of parent animals that do not feed their young. This suggests that raptors were solitary eaters, and therefore solitary hunters as well. 

Vertebrate paleontologist Joseph Frederickson headed the research and encourages using this method to analyze hunting patterns of other extinct animals. The study relies on secondary research, drawing similarities between raptorial dinosaurs and the Komodo dragon and crocodiles, as well as tooth composition analysis to show dietary habits, extending to hunting habits. The study also presents the asocial instincts of modern carnivorous reptiles as indicative of solitary hunting habits – which might not be a universal rule. While the plausible assumptions in the study reveal new findings, developing other innovative methods to validate these findings or the assumptions would help solidify the conclusions of this research.

Managing Correspondent: Rhea Grover

Press Article: The movie ‘Jurassic Park’ got it wrong: Raptors don’t hunt in packs on ScienceDaily

Original Science Article: Ontogenetic dietary shifts in Deinonychus antirrhopus (Theropoda; Dromaeosauridae): Insights into the ecology and social behavior of raptorial dinosaurs through stable isotope analysis on ScienceDirect

Image Credits: Flickr

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