Did Velociraptor Taste Like Chicken?

Did Velociraptor Taste Like Chicken?

CNN has an article which raises this very question.  The question is raised, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because researchers manipulated chicken embryos so that they would grow with the snout of a Velociraptor.  The report by scientists at Yale published in Evolution in September 2019, and summarized in this Popular Science article reveals that by introducing an inhibitor to stop the genetic signal that tells the embryo to build a bird beak, the scientists were able to make the chicken embryos grow a snout and palate that resembles a velociraptor.

Most of the public probably imagine a velociraptor from the Jurassic Park movies, which were probably representations of Deinonychus, a genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur with one described species, Deinonychus antirrhopus. This species, which could grow up to 3.4 metres (11 ft) long, lived during the early Cretaceous Period, about 115–108 million years ago.  As noted in this article actual velociraptors were more like a turkey with teeth.  A turkey is not what the movie makers thought would be a scary predator.

Speculating what the meat tasted like is fleshed out (sorry!) in this article, which given that velociraptors were meat eaters themselves, probably means their meat would be like a cross between turkey meat and eagle or hawk meat i.e. gamey and tough.

What is more interesting to me is that the chicken genes could be manipulated in embryo to grow a snout like a velociraptor.  That to me, is very strong evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

As birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs, many of their features were modified.  Small theropods related to Compsognathus (e.g., Sinosauropteryx) probably evolved the first feathers. These short, hair-like feathers grew on their heads, necks, and bodies and provided insulation.  In theropods even more closely related to birds, like the oviraptorosaurs, we find several new types of feathers. One is branched and downy. Others have evolved a central stalk, with unstructured branches coming off it and its base. Still others (like the dromaeosaurids and Archaeopteryx) have a vane-like structure in which the barbs are well-organized and locked together by barbules. This is identical to the feather structure of living birds.

Another line of evidence comes from changes in the digits of the dinosaurs leading to birds. The first theropod dinosaurs had hands with small fifth and fourth digits and a long second digit. As the evogram above shows, in the theropod lineage that would eventually lead to birds, the fifth digit (e.g., as seen in Coelophysoids) and then the fourth (e.g., as seen in Allosaurids) were completely lost. The wrist bones underlying the first and second digits consolidated and took on a semicircular form that allowed the hand to rotate sideways against the forearm. This eventually allowed birds’ wing joints to move in a way that creates thrust for flight.

The bone walls became even thinner, and the feathers became longer and their vanes asymmetrical, probably also improving flight. The bony tail was reduced to a stump, and a spray of feathers at the tail eventually took on the function of improving stability and maneuverability. The wishbone, which was present in non-bird dinosaurs, became stronger and more elaborate, and the bones of the shoulder girdle evolved to connect to the breastbone, anchoring the flight apparatus of the forelimb. The breastbone itself became larger, and evolved a central keel along the midline of the breast which served to anchor the flight muscles. The arms evolved to be longer than the legs, as the main form of locomotion switched from running to flight, and teeth were lost repeatedly in various lineages of early birds.

Air sacs and pneumatic bones in birds – the bronchi of the respiratory system extend beyond the lungs into air sacs which in turn extend into many long bones. These air sacs aid flight by: reducing the bird’s weight.  There is strong evidence that theropod dinosaurs that predated the emergence of birds in the record had pulmonary systems like modern bird breathing systems. This means that the flow-through lung is not unique to birds, but was present in theropod dinosaurs before the evolution and emergence of birds.  See this article for example.

Now all that I just recounted is circumstantial evidence.  That evidence provides a plausibility pathway of evolutionary development that coincides with the timeline in history in which we find the fossil evidence.  Because this is historical evidence, it can only be inference to the most probable conclusion, like any forensic study.  Fans of crime dramas and police shows know the difference between direct evidence tying a suspect to the murder, like fingerprints on the murder weapons, DNA of the suspect on the victim, and so on, and circumstantial evidence that points to the suspect but does not prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Creationist like to exploit the distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence to argue that the similarities are merely coincidental, the result of common design rather than common descent.  See here for example and here for instance.  But the Yale experiments seems to rewind evolution, showing the genetic development from dinosaur snout to bird beaks exists in the chicken DNA.  Why, if you inhibit the beak development in embryo, does what develop precisely resemble the supposed ancestor?  Because the theropods WERE the actual ancestors seems the direct evidence conclusion.

Here is Answers-in-Genesis’ attempt to throw shade on the Yale study.  About the best they can say is:

To achieve a targeted embryonic defect like this, even one that so loosely and imperfectly resembles the bone structure of another sort of animal, required an enormous amount of research and experimentation. Insertion of the correct inhibitors at the correct spot in the embryo at precisely the right time in its development to inhibit specific genetic expression and achieve the desired effect was not accomplished through random processes.

In other words, the researchers had to work so hard to achieve the effect there is no way it could have happened naturally.  Hmmm… I wonder what crow tastes like.

31 thoughts on “Did Velociraptor Taste Like Chicken?

  1. A trope of Cordwainer Smith’s “Instrumentality” (mentioned above) was “Underpeople” — a slave caste of made-to-order, totally-expendable “homunculi” uplifted from animals. (And when I say Expendable, I mean EXPENDABLE, easier & more trivial to terminate and order a replacement than throwing away a used Kleenex.) Whose only solace from decanting to termination was an “Old Strong Religion” (too old for their human overlords) involving a “God Nailed High”.

    CS died before he could get to his story-cycle capper (only surviving description was a “religious climax” probably involving the Old Strong Religion) and all his notes were subsequently lost.


  2. Stephen, I am confused, was the awesome breasts that once dominated the skies attributed to the lovely Raquel Welch or did the birds have breast also? Not to be critical but you left the r out of breast but I figured it out. Raquel Welch is 80 and I am sad, time marches on. 1 Million B.C. or to be PC BCE. Great movie, great plot, great dialogue and great costumes with great make up and hair . A classic .


  3. There must be higher forces at work… Not really chickens but this month’s print edition (everyone remember print, right?) of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN has a nifty cover story about the mighty PTEROSAUR, my absolutest favoritest dinosaur. (I think my lifetime interest was, uh, stimulated when I saw Raquel Welch fetched back to the nest by one such as a kid.)

    These awesome beasts which once dominated the skies of the Mesozoic ranged in size from that of sparrows to one monstrous variation that was only slightly smaller than a F16. What was mysterious to scientists was how these big suckers could lift off given their proportions and body mass. Well a team of paleontologists and biomechanics at the University of Southern California using newly discovered fossils and mathematical modeling think they’ve finally figured it out. Totally fascinating stuff.


  4. a little afternoon humor:

    two college girls, Ingrid and Sylvia, in gym class performing a ‘modern dance’ as feathered birds

    the music begins !

    what happened next was a blur . . . . . super fast step-step-flap-flap-peck-peck-turn-repeat, etc.
    and the audience went wild laughing as the feathers came flying off of the dancers

    all of sudden, Ingrid yells

    turned out that the phonograph had been set for the fastest speed possible by mistake

    the girls recovered their composure and the speed of the music was adjusted to normal . . . . .

    and so the two young ladies began again: walking and pecking their way around the gymnasium, very dignified, as two girls dressed in feathers could be with most of their feathers already lying on the gym floor

    the audience loved it


  5. I don’t know from ‘mutant’ chicken,
    but as a child, the writer Flannery O’Connor had this experience:

    “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”

    here’s the Pathe film:


  6. I share your consternation Robert.
    When Science graduates to Scientism, human hubris knows no bounds.
    How long before ‘skin jobs’ (replicants in the Blade Runner films) and ‘fabricants’ (from the film Cloud Atlas are as common in future as Monsanto’s GMO crops are today?
    I think that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in the Disney’s Fantasia (1940) piped a warning even back then.


  7. “Then all of us may as well hold hands and walk into a chopper blade.”
    — Hawkeye Pierce, 4077 MASH


  8. Or even older, from Universal monster movies:

    [end reverb]


  9. It’s the Tennesse Birdwalk (chirp chirp):

    (If you have any Ad-blocking software, turn it on before going to YouTube)


  10. But what more appropriate fate for the human race can there be but to be taken out by a genetically engineered strain of mutant carnivorous chickens?

    Funny… I remember an SF story by Cordwainer Smith some 40-50 years ago that used that shtick. A lost colony world of uplifted chickens who KNEW that when it comes to humans and chickens that one ate the other but were VERY confused about the details.

    Oh, Cordwainer Smith’s “Instrumentality” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Uyx0eJgIo) was widely acknowledged as Christian-themed SF by everyone EXCEPT Christians. Go fig.


  11. Indeed. Chickens retain the genes for developing teeth, which is sometimes expressed in a mutation that is always lethal. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mutant-chicken-grows-alli/ The quote from the article:

    “The mutant chickens Harris studied bear a recessive trait dubbed talpid2. This trait is lethal, meaning that such mutants are never born, but some incubate in eggs as long as 18 days. During that time, the same two tissues from which teeth develop in mammals come together in the jaw of the mutant embryo–and this leads to nascent teeth, a structure birds have lacked for at least 70 million years. “They don’t make a molar,” explains development biologist John Fallon, who oversaw Harris’s work. “What they make is this conical, saber-shaped structure that is clearly a tooth. The other animal that has a tooth like that is an alligator.” ”

    Hence the saying, “As rare as hen’s teeth”.


  12. Given the degree to which animal agriculture contributes to climate change, chickens are already helping to contribute to the end of civilization as is. Not to mention that the ways chicken is often prepared in the American diet are often deep-fried and death-accelerating thus contributing even further to our doom.


  13. If we did ever bring back dinosaurs, we would have the Jurassic Park type wonder for a while… and then we would be serving them up slathered in gravy alongside a gallon of mashed potatoes and butter as soon as it became economically feasible to do so.


  14. But what more appropriate fate for the human race can there be but to be taken out by a genetically engineered strain of mutant carnivorous chickens? It’s almost poetic the way it neatly balances human creativity and utter stupidity.


  15. No way it could have happened naturally . . . unless some random mutation impacted the release of the inhibitor. That’s unlikely, certainly no impossible.

    Everyone whose worked in animal husbandry knows that birth defects are not that uncommon, just that 99.44% of them aren’t beneficial. (And how many birth defects are entirely unseen and undetected? I have a heart valve abnormality – without modern science no one would ever know that)


  16. I don’t dispute the conclusions of the evolutionary science involved in the chicken experiment. At the same time, I’m deeply ill at ease with the use of genetic engineering to create the mutant chickens, and wonder if the underlying assumption in the experiment that humans have the right to alter the natural world so dramatically see for experimental purposes isn’t the same one that has led to ecological crisis we are seeing unfold before our eyes.


  17. “In other words, the researchers had to work so hard to achieve the effect there is no way it could have happened naturally.”

    It is funny that the ID position essentially boils down to that 🙂


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