Raptors are Not Dinosaurs

A raptor is a bird of prey, not a dinosaur.

When we say things like, “We’ll get you the number for a raptor rehabilitator,” many people respond by informing us that raptors are extinct. Thankfully, they aren’t! There are over 500 species of raptor currently sharing our planet.

Raptors— also called “birds of prey”— are a large group of birds including hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles. The term is sometimes also applied to our native vultures, although they are more closely related to storks than they are to other birds of prey. The term “raptor,” which comes from a root word meaning to seize or grab, was used for centuries before the discovery of dinosaurs.

Velociraptors were small, carnivorous dinosaurs first discovered in the 1920s. Anatomically, they were very similar to modern birds of prey, so paleontologists gave them the name velociraptor, meaning “fast bird of prey.”

The name velociraptor was never meant to actually imply that velociraptors are raptors. (The name stegosaurus means “roofed lizard,” but they did not have roofs and were not lizards!)

The Jurassic Park series unfortunately had a negative impact on our cultural understanding of what a raptor is. In the series, the characters shorten the name “velociraptor” to “raptor,” similar to how they refer to a triceratops as a “trike.” The nickname stuck, and for nearly 30 years, the general public has used the term almost exclusively to refer to velociraptors and their relatives.

While the sentence, “T’challa the bobcat was dropped by a raptor,” would certainly be much more interesting if it referred to an extinct dinosaur, we’re referring to modern birds of prey when we use the term!

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