Deinonychus antirrhopus — an agile hunter
Deinonychus was a small predatory dinosaur, with keen eyesight and a well-developed sense of balance. It had a long, stiff tail with a ball joint at its base that enabled tail movement. This allowed Deinonychus to maintain its balance when attacking prey.
The name Deinonychus means ‘terrible claw’, and on the second toe of each foot was a large sickle-like claw that was held away from the ground when the animal was walking or running. When Deinonychus attacked, the claw was brought down, slashing into the flesh of its prey by kicking, disembowelling its victim. Its arms and ‘hands’ would have been used to tackle and hold onto prey; its powerful jaws and backward-sloping serrated teeth used to tear off large chunks of meat. Many other theropods relied on using their teeth and neck muscles to despatch their prey, whereas Deinonychus fought like a karate fighter, using its hands and feet as well as its teeth.
Deinonychus has helped to change the way we think about dinosaurs. People used to think dinosaurs were sluggish creatures, until a palaeontologist named John Ostrom studied the skeleton of Deinonychus. Ostrom’s discoveries led to the idea that dinosaurs could be sleek, fast-moving and agile predators.