How do we know what the dromaeosaur looked like?

A Deinonychus skeleton posed in running position.  It is on its left foot, right leg extended forward. The arms are positioned in front, hands together, and the tail extends straight out behind.

Skeleton of the dromaeosaur Deinonychusat the Field Museum. Click to zoom. Photo posted on Wikipedia by Scott Anselmo.

Stance: There are only a few teeth and bone fragments from this site and we don't know what exact species of dromaeosaur they are from, so assembling a life-like image might seem impossible. But scientists studying the skeletons of different dromaeosaur species have learned that the bones of all dromaeosaurs are quite similar. This allowed the artist to use a "typical" dromaeosaur skeleton, such as the one in this photo, as the basis for the reconstruction.

This skeleton holds several important clues to stance: Scientists determined that the arm and wrist bones allowed only certain motions, so they know the hands were held palms-inward. The arms are much shorter than the legs and end in thin claws, showing that it stood on the hind legs only. The end of the tail was stiffened by long bony rods, so it was not very flexible. The huge claw on the inside toe was too big to rest on the ground, and is shown held up high.

Feathers and colors: Every dromaeosaur specimen ever found in sediment fine enough to preserve soft tissue impressions has shown evidence of feathers. This is why the dromaeosaur was painted with feathers. The colors of the feathers were chosen by the artist, Mary Parrish, who prefers to color her reconstructions with a conservative palette.

Find out more about making dinosaur reconstructions.