Welcome to the new series Trope-osaurus, where we look at the common things we see dinosaurs do in movies, television, and art. This includes stuff like sauropods wading in swamps, pterosaurs snatching up prey like an eagle, tyrannosaurs constantly roaring, or even things like volcanoes and asteroids constantly appearing even when they make no sense. Today, we talk about raptors again, and discuss a behavior we’ve always attributed to them but now are starting to have second guesses about: pack hunting.
If multiple raptors are in a movie/TV show/documentary/illustration together, chances are they will be hunting in a pack taking down a much bigger animal.
This image is so ingrained into the public’s conscience that not too many people give it a second thought. But, when you think about it, what evidence is there really for such behavior? You see it all the time in dinosaur books, but no references are ever shown to back up the claims.
Anyway, the idea is taken from the fact that many Tenontosaurus remains are found in proximity of Deinonychus skeletons and teeth, and the two genus’ are usually found in the same area. This lead to the idea that Deinonychus preyed on Tenontosaurus. However, Tenontosaurus was still a very large animal, much too big for a single raptor to take on alone. So, what’s the solution?
They hunted in packs.
So, to this day, almost every picture of Tenontosaurus features a pack of Deinonychus either currently attacking it or waiting in the background (which is a dinosaur trope in of itself). You’ll also see raptors depicted as coordinated hunters, working together like wolf packs and making strategic maneuvers.
But is there really that much evidence supporting this?
Some scientists have been looking at this supposed ‘evidence’ a little differently as of late. We have raptor teeth and skeletons together by a dead Tenontosaurus, but is it possible that they all came together to scavenge on an already dead individual? Komodo Dragons exhibit similar behavior, congregating as a group when they find a dead animal. But normally, they live solitary lives. Imagine if future paleontologist were to find a group of Komodo Dragon fossils next to an ox, and they continually depicted Komodo Dragon’s as pack hunters? Further, what if they then point that behavior on all monitor lizards, and before you know it there are common depictions of Nile monitor packs taking down wildebeests?
As awesome as that sounds, you can see how supposed evidence can be looked at differently at a different angle.
Another thing to look at is the size difference between Deinonychus and Tenontosaurus. Tenontosaurus was still a large animal, and it may have been to big for a Deinonychus to prey on. Some have suggested that Deinonychus prefered juvenile Tenotosaurs, being much smaller and easier to hunt. This correlates to the fact that most Tenontosaurus/Deinonychus discoveries have sub-adult Tenotosaurs.
Now, some dromaeosaur tracks have been found to show that at least some raptors lived in groups.
These tracks were found in China, and suggest that the footprints were made by a few individuals and at the same time. This could have been a family group. but whether this means they hunted large animals in the way they are frequently portrayed is not known.
Now, let’s say that Deinonychus did hunt in packs, does this mean all raptors did? Remember, just because one animal exhibits a certain behavior doesn’t mean all did. Lions lived in prides, but most big cats are solitary. What if future scientists discover lions lived in social groups, but then depict tigers doing the same thing (which isn’t a stretch, since tiger and lion skeletons are superficially identical).
Velociraptor is another raptor often seen depicted in groups, but some scientist feel this is very unlikely.
We do have evidence of Velociraptor interacting with each other, but not in a friendly way.
Teeth marks in skull. Lovely.
Velociraptor lived in a desert ecosystem, meaning there may not have been enough food to support an entire group. A solitary lifestyle may have been most ideal. A similar situation appears in today’s canines. Wolves hunt in packs and are able to take down prey as large as elk, moose, and bison. Their smaller cousin the coyote, however, lives a solitary life. Now, imagine depictions of coyote packs taking down bison. That would sound ridiculous, right? Well, that’s kind of what happens when we depict raptors.
We need to remember that raptors were small, and probably played the same ecological niches as jackals and foxes. Personally, we may give these guys too much credit. Because on larger, wolf sized raptor may have hunted in packs doesn’t mean the fox sized ones took down prey the size of elephant.s Have you ever seen a pack of foxes taking on a moose. I don’t think so.This especially bugs me when we see jackal sized Dromaeosaurus taking down prey like Lambeosaurus or Edmontosaurus, two dinosaurs even bigger than T. rex!!!
As awesome as the idea of small predatory dinosaurs working together to take down massive prey is, the evidence just isn’t as extensive as once thought. We may have to accept that this behavior may not have happened, and if it did, it was almost certainly not universal. However, I’m not discrediting the theory entirely. I still think it’s possible. In fact, I still enjoy such depictions. I still think, however, that we may be relying on this idea too much, and new points of view are always welcomed. How about more raptor packs taking on small prey, or individual raptors hunting mammals and lizards? What if raptors were actually predominantly scavengers, like vultures? I’m just asking for a little more variety is all, because if it’s a Trope-osaurus, we’ve seen it plenty. Now, show me the best you’ve got.
Well, that’s different.
Next time, aaaaaaalllllll aaaaaabbbbboooooorrrrddddd!!!!!
We’re gonna ride,
The Dinosaur Train!