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Deinonychus is an extinct genus of dromaeosaurid coelurosaurian dinosaurs that lived around 115 to 108 million years ago. The type species Deinonychus antirrhopus is one of the best-known dromaeosaurids till now.


Scientific classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Clade Dinosauria
Order Saurischia
Suborder Theropoda
Family Unenlagiidae
Clade Eudromaeosauria
Genus Deinonychus
Species Deinonychus antirrhopus
(Synonyms – Velociraptor antirrhopus)

Quick Information

Name Meaning Terrible claw
Pronunciation dye-NON-ik-us
Geological Time Period Early Cretaceous Era (mid-Aptian to early Albian stages)
Size Length –3.4  to 4 meters (11 ft)
Height – 1.2 to 2 meters (4 ft) tall at the shoulder
Weight 160 to 220 lbs
Range/Location North America
Diet Carnivorous
Habitat/Environment floodplain or swamplike region
Closest Relative Velociraptor
Locomotion Bipedal

Physical Description

Deinonychus had a 15 to 17 inches long skull that was fairly similar to that of an Allosaurus. It had powerful jaws with curved, serrated teeth. The skull and lower jaw possessed fenestrae. It is believed that they had a flexible neck. Their brain and eyes were relatively large. Deinonychus possessed sharp and curved claws on each forelimb; and four-toed hind foot with sickle-like claws. There is no evidence that they possessed any feathers.


Deinonychus’ fossil remains have been recovered from the Cloverly Formation (dated early Cretaceous) in Montana and Wyoming, and the Antlers Formation in Oklahoma. The first fossil remains were unearthed in southern Montana in 1931 when paleontologist Barnum Brown was charged with excavating and preparing Tenontosaurus remains. In his field report, Brown revealed the discovery of a small carnivorous dinosaur. It was informally called ‘Daptosaurus agilis.’ In August 1964, Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History team led by paleontologist John Ostrom found more skeletal material near Bridger. In the following two years, over one-thousand bones and remains of at least three individuals were found. The type specimen just had the complete left foot and partial right foot. Later, Ostrom and Grant E. Meyer studied their own material and Barnum Brown’s material and found that they belong to the same species. They formally named it Deinonychus antirrhopus. In 2000, Gerald Grellet-Tinner and Peter Makovicky described a lime-encased material that was sitting at the American Museum storage for a long time. They described previously identified ossified tendons as actually being the gastralia of the species. They also found previously unnoticed fossilized eggshells that had encircled the actual Deinonychus specimen. The outer surface of one eggshell was in close proximity of the gastralia triggering the hypothesis that they brooded on eggs and it led to the suggestion of their endothermy was like modern birds.


The name Daptosaurus comes from Greek words “deinos” meaning ‘terrible’ and “onux, onukh” meaning ‘claw.’ The term “antirrhopus” (from the type species Deinonychus antirrhopus) is a Greek word meaning ‘counterbalancing.’ It refers to the assumed purpose of its stiffened tail.

Behavior and Adaptation

They shared their territory with Sauropelta, Zephyrosaurus, Tenontosaurus, Acrocanthosaurus, Sauroposeidon, Goniopholis and Deinonychus among others. Scientists believe that they lived and hunted in packs. They killed their prey like accipitrid birds of prey. They might have preyed upon Tenontosaurus as its remains have been found near the fossil remains of Deinonychus.

Their brain and body weight ratio suggested that that were one of the ‘intelligent’ dinosaurs. They were greatly specialized for swift movement and fierce attack. They used their claw to slash and cut its prey.

They are believed to be one of the fast running creatures of their time. Deinonychus, like other raptors, could run 40 at a speed of miles per hour on average. A study conducted in 2010 by Paul Gignac and his team suggested that they had a bite force somewhere between 4100 and 8200 newtons, which is greater than a modern-day hyena.

Interesting Facts

  • It is also believed that Tsaagan (from Mongolia), and Saurornitholestes (from North America) were their closest relatives.
  • A Deinonychus skeleton (AMNH 3015 specimen) is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History, while specimen (MCZ 4371) is at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Both specimens were not Yale specimens.
  • Deinonychus were prominently depicted in the Jurassic Park novel by Michael Crichton (and also its 1993 film adaptation by Steven Spielberg). But Crichton choose to call it ‘Velociraptor’ instead of Deinonychus as it was “more dramatic”.
  • This dinosaur has also appeared in several video games and toy lines.
  • Deinonychus has appeared in Discovery Channel’s TV documentary mini-series Clash of the Dinosaurs and ITV science fiction television series Primeval.

Published on October 12th 2015 by under Reptiles.
Article was last reviewed on 16th September 2019.

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