Claws for climbing not killing, according to an article in New Scientist, 10 September 2009, p10. Velociraptor is a dinosaur with sharp sickle shaped claws that everyone, including the producers of Jurassic Park, assumed were for tearing open prey. However, in 2005 Phil Manning, of the University of Manchester, UK, and colleagues showed that Velociraptor’s foot claw could puncture skin and help the dinosaur cling to prey, but was not sharp enough to rip the skin open. Now a study of the biomechanics of the hand claws has shown the claws are strong enough to support the animal’s weight. Mann suggests Velociraptor climbed trees using its hand claws, pounced on its prey and clung onto the prey using its foot claws while subduing it by biting. Peter Makovicky, a palaeontologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, agrees that small clawed dinosaurs may have been climbers, but their descendants adapted the claw for other purposes, such as latching onto prey, much as big cats with their sharp, curved claws do today. He pointed out that dromeosaurs Utahraptor and Achillobator also had curved claws, but as they could grow to six metres (20 ft) long and weigh several hundred kilograms, “You’d be hard put to find a tree they could climb.”

Editorial Comment: As this study indicates sharp claws can be useful for climbing trees and gripping objects. Genesis tells us that all animals started out vegetarian. The study described above shows that Velociraptor was well equipped for climbing trees, gripping branches and grabbing fruit. If you lived with Velociraptors the only thing you may have had to fear was that it ate all the mangoes before you did.

As an aside – there may not be any living trees that a 6m or 20ft dinosaur could climb, but there are in the fossil record. Dinosaurs are not the only things that were big in the past. Even if the large dromeosaurs didn’t climb trees this study reminds biologists not to interpret all biological structures and functions in terms of evolutionary “kill or be killed” stories before they do some real research. (Ref. diet, locomotion, arboreal)

Evidence News 24 Mar 2010