Celebrating my 2nd #NationalVelociraptorDay with Raptor Red

Hold on to your butts, it’s #NationalVelociraptorDay again.

This year, I again decided to enjoy a piece of fiction instead of attempting anything remotely resembling research, but I’m feeling this year’s post is at least heading in the right direction (last year’s post on Velocipastor was . . . something else).

Raptor Red was at least written by a real paleontologist . . . about the life and adventures of a Utahraptor pack. Damn. Well there’s no #NationalUtahRaptorDay so far as I can tell.

Also, the image of Velociraptor that I assume most people associate with the term — from nearly a quarter century of watching and rewatching Jurassic Park for almost any reason at all (just me?) — actually has more to do with the real Utahraptor than it does with the real Velociraptor.

As you can see from the graphic, the big red raptor (Utahraptor; also good job Scott Hartman for doing Utahraptor in red like the title of this book) and the purple raptor (from JP) are roughly related when it comes to size. The real Velociraptor, in blue, is quite tiny by comparison.

Interestingly, as Raptor Red author Robert T. Bakker (of Dinosaur Renaissance fame) describes in the opening pages of his book, the designs of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park already had their dimensions before Utahraptor was ever found in Gaston Quarry in 1991 (Wikipedia points out that some Utahraptor bones were found in 1975 as well but not well known). Bakker would know, apparently he was helping Spielberg’s artists with the anatomy.

Is This Post Secretly About Jurassic Park?

No. I was just feebly attempting to defend my myself for talking about the wrong kind of raptor.

About Raptor Red then?

Yes! Onto the reason we’re here. How was Raptor Red?

Honestly, quite a lot of fun to read.

After the confusion that was 65, it felt really good to reengage with dinosaurs again in a way that felt both thoughtful and passionate. It is clear that Bakker has a real love for these ancient creatures and his attention to detail was astounding (though I can’t speak to its accuracy. 1995 was a long time ago so I’m sure some things have changed and also I just wanted to read and have a good time).

On a surface level, Raptor Red reads a little like an episode of Prehistoric Planet, dolling out information about how Utahraptors may have lived, providing some interludes from the points of view of other contemporary species, and showing us adaptations those species had for their unique niche.

In this capacity, Raptor Red exposed me to a bunch of new species I had never heard of before. Appearances by Astrodon, Acrocanthosaurus, and Ornithocheirus were new, as well as early mammals like Aegialodon, or marine reptiles like Kronosaurus. And it was great to see some old favorites too like Pterydactyls, Deinonychs, and Iguanadons.

But this is really only just the surface. I think the real draw of the story, and what keeps us reading is a second level altogether consisting of the humanity Bakker is able to give the Utahraptors which are essentially horrifying killing machines.

This happens in a few ways. Raptor interiority is one. Bakker represents their intelligence with more than just expert hunting tactics, but actual thoughts which is at first a little strange, but quickly palatable.

The pack dynamic and the constant struggle for survival are two more. In many cases, the tension of a scene comes from changes in environment which the raptors are not ready for, or not adapted to. They rely on either their aforementioned intelligence, or the bonds between themselves and the other members of the pack. Consequently, when those bonds begin to fray, trouble is always soon to follow.

This feels very human. And a lot more like a novel than a documentary.

So a third level which presents a kind of message or theme should not feel out of place, but a passage about the “momentous transition in family life from a male-dominated pack structure to an incipient matriarchy.” (pg 135), stood out to me as somewhat surprising. I have in my notes:

“Raptors fighting the patriarchy?”

Bakker explains later that inspiration for this came from how “Owls, hawks, and eagles have societies organized around female dominance, and we can think of tyrannosaurus and raptors as giant, ground-running eagles.” (pg 249).

Looking to these kinds of birds for inspiration makes sense (they are also raptors), but I think it was a detail that could have just as easily been left out.

But one I’m sure glad wasn’t.

Give this One a Read?

Absolutely. Two killing toe-claws way up for Raptor Red. This book has both the detail and science of a documentary, as well as the drama and catharsis of a novel. It’s clear that Bakker has a deep sense of awe, and a love for dinosaurs, but also the ability to tell a great story like a novelist. I can’t imagine a better way to spend #NationalVelociraptorDay, then with a copy of Raptor Red.

That’s all I have this week. Has anyone read this one? What were your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments section. I’d love to talk about this one.


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