Deinonychus Deinonychus was a ferocious theropod from Early Cretaceous North America. It had long hindlimbs with a large, scythe-shaped claw on second toe of each foot. Its muscular arms had three-fingered, clawed hands. It had a very long stiffened tail. Its relatively large head with powerful jaws lined with about 60 backward-curving, saw-edged fangs. Although there is no fossil evidence, Deinonychus was probably feathered like its relatives, Dromaeosaurus and Velociraptor, members of the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds.
Deinonychus means “terrible claw”, a reference to its scythe-shaped toe-claws. In life, the bone would have been covered with a sheath made of a horn-like material. The toe-claws were so long—at least 12 centimetres (4.7 inches)—they would have had to be raised up so that they would not get in the way while the dinosaur ran. Palaeontologists think the toe-claws would have been used for stabbing at attackers in self-defence or for pinning down its prey, rather than as slashing weapons.
The description of Deinonychus by US palaeontologist John Ostrom in 1969 changed the way people thought of dinosaurs. Before then, dinosaurs were regarded as huge, lumbering, stupid creatures—nothing like the quick, agile and relatively intelligent Deinonychus.
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