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The Noble Savage by EWilloughby The Noble Savage by EWilloughby

This is a speculative reconstruction of a subadult Deinonychus displaying semi-arboreal characteristics. It's based on the tenuous assumption that the type specimen (YPM 5205) represents an immature animal, as compared to later specimens with slightly different morphological characteristics, most notably the Harvard specimen (MCZ 4371) described in 1976. Ostrom noted in the description for this newer specimen that one of the major differences between this and the type is the angle of curvature for the second pedal claw: the newer specimen had a much straighter sickle claw, while the original was very strongly curved. However, he had no opinion at the time on whether this difference in morphology represented individual, ontogenetic, or sexual variation.(1)

Claw Diagram by EWilloughby 
(Comparison diagram of two second pedal claw specimens, redrawn by me from Parsons & Parsons 2009)

In 2006, Parsons & Parsons demonstrated unequivocally that the Harvard specimen is a sexually mature adult, and identified some unique adult characters associated with this and other mature Deinonychus specimens.(2) Further study by the same authors in 2009 tentatively indicates that the type specimen—a possible subadult—may be associated with arboreal characteristics. Adult specimens are also found to have proportionally shorter arms, leaving room to speculate whether the longer arms of subadults could have been a semi-volant adaptation involved in some incipient gliding (or, perhaps more accurate for an animal that size, "descent-slowing") capabilities. The more strongly recurved second pedal claw is implicated in climbing, and its lateral compression and inner arc are compared in this paper to the same ungual in Melanerpes, the red-headed woodpecker (a highly scansorial modern bird).(3)

Behavior rarely fossilizes, and the idea that immature Deinonychus occupied a partially arboreal niche is still highly speculative, especially given that few modern archosaurs possess markedly different ecologies at different ontogenic stages. And while I don't usually support copying extant birds this precisely for serious paleoart, it proved to be an excellent practice piece to flesh out a highly speculative idea.

This piece is based directly on an excellent photograph by my most admired living scientist, experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, who was kind enough to grant me permission to do so. Pinker is a world-renowned cognitive scientist as well as a talented photographer, and you can check out more of his better angles of our nature on his website at

It's interesting to note that of all known specimens of deinonychosaurs, a sizable percentage of them represent juveniles or subadults, animals that lived very brief lives before succumbing to nature's indifference. For the life of a Deinonychus was surely solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

1. Ostrom, J. H. (1976). "On a new specimen of the Lower Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Deinonychus antirrhopus". Breviora 439: 1–21.

2. Parsons, W. L.; Parsons, K. M. (2006). "Morphology and size of an adult specimen of Deinonychus antirrhopus, (Saurischia, Theropoda)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26 (3 sup.): 109A.

3. Parsons, W. L.; Parsons, K. M. (2009). "Further descriptions of the osteology of Deinonychus antirrhopus (Saurischia, Theropoda)". Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences 38: 43–54.

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SansIsntReal Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2017
You should make books and add your deviations of these beautiful creatures into them, along with facts about the creatures. People would adore your books if you made some. You truly have an amazing artistic ability.
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Edited Apr 19, 2017  Professional General Artist
Thank you!

I've actually just recently published my first book, along with a few colleagues. Though this particular illustration isn't included, it is lavishly illustrated with feathered dinosaur paleoart, including a few new pieces that I haven't shown on DA.
SansIsntReal Featured By Owner 6 days ago
I should take a look at your book when I have time :)
Camacaw Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2017
This absolutely brilliant! Nice work!Chanyeol Clap and Thumbs Up 
Mourlie Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2016  Student General Artist
It looks so real, almost like a photo...You are truly an artist. Now I have to check out your whole gallery! :o
RioTheRaptor Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
its a harris hawk!
dilophosaurus65 Featured By Owner Edited Jan 2, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Browsing through your galleries, looking at your dinosaur paintings mixed with those of modern birds, it's remarkable how you've managed to depict the raptors as majestic, beautiful as the birds of today (although probably a little bit odd by today's avian standarts, you know - the long tails and grasping arms), and not some primitive ugly-looking creatures of the past. People have to understand that just because these animals lived so long ago doesn't mean they were more primitive and unevolved, but were comparable (even confusingly similar) to modern animals and just as spectacular to look at and beautiful in their own ancient way.
PedroSalas Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
Emily, you've mentioned that the arms in juvenile D. are proportionately longer than in the adult. Will you please tell me where I can find a picture or diagram of a juvenile skeleton showing the arms? I was unsuccessful on my search through the internet.
Valia2305 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Emily is... internet-ly dead
PedroSalas Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2016  Professional Traditional Artist
At least I'm glad to say that she is real life-ly alive :)
Valia2305 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Same XD
Starduststudio Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
So cute :D
McTalon Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2015  Student General Artist
Perching, doesn't seem too outlandish. I wonder if young Dienonychus ever attack prey or intruders by jumping/gliding down from tree limbs? Getting dive-bombed by large, arboreal maniraptors would certainly be an alarming experience.
Valen123456 Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2015
I don't know if anyone has ever said the Deinonychus was ever capable of gliding (please correct me if so, i do not habitually read paleo-articles or papers) but it would not surprise me if some creature in the that family used that tactic. It is also possible that (as EWilloughby hints) there where were differences between juvenile and adult dromaeosaur habitats and hunting tactics, with the youngsters living in the trees and larger adults on the ground.

I personally suspect that different groups, genus, species had their own tactics, since competition always inspires a range of lifestyles. In some areas/times it may have been different species to each niche/lifestyle, while in others it was just a few species living different ways at different ages, or even different genders (females in trees, males on ground for all we know). The difficult part is finding and correctly interpreting the evidence of any of the fragments we can find after so long.
diebruder Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
gracias x toda esa informacion
PLASTOSPLEEN Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2015
Creature218 Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2015
if I didn't know any better I would think that was real
Arkkeeper Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
The idea that a Deino would perch like that blows my mind
Terizinosaurus Featured By Owner May 19, 2015
tyrantruler Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2015  Student Artist
This is my screensaver:)
paleopeter Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist

Great art!!! but perhaps a bit too avian? :happybounce: 

Surf-By-Shootin Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015
I have the same suspicions about dienonychus. In deinonychus the long arms and fingers appear to have design for hanging more than perching though.  With backwards facing pubis and  ischium I would be great for hanging onto vertical surfaces such as tree trunks. The fossilized claws dont keep the entire claw and its sheath would extend even farther. Such extensions would be great for textured bark.

It would make sense that Deinonychus would have an arboreal arboreal development, it would be a greater insurance policy for the maturation of offspring in comparison to other fauna restricted to the linear plane of ground dwellers. Having feathers would also lessen the effects of falling damage if mistakes occur.

 It seems though, that the less curved claw would be a trait of adults with a higher emphasis on living on the ground. Cassowaries exhibit a long but straight pedal claw on each foot, the claw grows straight and distally from the toe. The straightened claws of Cassowaries may show some parallelism with the idea of ontogenic transformation of Deinonychus into a more ground dwelling emphasis.…
Carcharael Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2015  Professional Artist
Amazing!!! I really love this restoration!
Learstang Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Beautiful! I've always had the view that if we could see living theropods, and the dromaeosaurs in particular, we would be struck by just how bird-like they were in appearance and behaviour.

Best Regards,

SCP-811Hatena Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is how the new Jurassic Park should be.
Raph04art Featured By Owner Edited Sep 21, 2014  Student General Artist
This is amazing :D looks like Spielberg's raptors needs a lot of fixing :D
Arbitran Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is without doubt the best single piece of paleoart I've ever seen :D LOVE :heart:
Archipithecus Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow. I was a bit startled to see a Deinonychus a bird body, until I realized what I was looking at. It's come a long way from how we first thought of them.
E-M-M-Y-97 Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2014
Amazing, it almost looks like a photo.  
Sinornithosaurus Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Blew me away!
enigmal-insanity Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2014  Student General Artist
beautiful, belongs in an evolutionary theory encyclopedia
aspidel Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This piece is really beautiful. It looks like the animal's still alive. Congrats!
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks kindly, Luka!
Sketchy-raptor Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014  Student General Artist
Wow, this is incredible. At first glance of the thumbnail, I thought that this was a photograph of a living bird of some kind. It's exactly how I imagine Deinonychus to look. Insta-fave.
eorhythm Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You really seem to have topped yourself with this one. It's a perfect standalone piece, speculative, thought-provoking, but not over-the-top with its clear reference/parallel to extant birds. I'd love to have this as a big print.
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks, Nat. As this is heavily referenced from someone else's photograph, I can't sell it as a print in good conscience, but you're welcomed to print out the high-res version on your own.
PestilentAngel Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2014  Student Filmographer
This looks AWESOME, Emily!  Love them feathers. <3
WhiskerfaceRumpel Featured By Owner Edited Sep 6, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
          Wow!  This is your best artwork yet!  And it is absolutely stunning!!!  Incredible!  I love the details in the foreground, especially the branches and the subadult's facial feathers!  And for some reason I'm loving that plain, blue background!  I was completely fooled into thinking this was a traditional piece.  Sweating a little...  
          This is so beautifully done and so well made!  I love it!!!!!  :love: 
          Keep up this awesome work!!! 
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thank you, Gray! It's amazing what a nice rough paper texture can do for digital art.
WhiskerfaceRumpel Featured By Owner Edited Sep 9, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
   You're welcome!  :) 
   Oh my goodness.  :o (Eek)  By the way, how do you put those textures on digital art? 
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2014  Professional General Artist
Well, you can either scan your own texture (from paper, wood, concrete, canvas, or just about any rough surfacejust be sure to desaturate it after scanning) or find a free-use texture online. Set the texture as a new layer on top in your drawing file, and then set it to "multiply". Adjust the opacity (multiply on a layer will usually darken and oversaturated the piece at full opacity) until you're satisfied.

There are other ways to use filters to achieve a similar textured effect, but that's what I find most useful! 
acepredator Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014
Maybe it was a glider that attacked from the air.
MightyRaptor Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Student Digital Artist
A raptorhawk nice!
WillemSvdMerwe Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014
Outstanding illustration!  It comes close to lookinglike an actual snapshot of a perching Deinonychus!  Great use of that photo.
tassietyger Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Perhaps it is ontogentic variation and nothing more than that? I mean if you look at the various modern animals today, the offspring look remarkably different from the adults (such as humans, deer, rhinos, elephants, majority of rodents) yet they serve no ecological function other than too look cute. Perhaps they did serve a function, such as the one you mention but I would not be surprised if it turns out of what I just said.
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Professional General Artist
It could be merely that. However, ontogenic proportions usually scale linearly (with caveats: skull and limbs grow faster than trunk, but I'm not aware of some limbs scaling faster than others) unless there's some reason why they don't, and most birds and other dinosaurs (for which we have evidence of young or subadults) don't have lingering proportionally-longer arms for some time in their juviehood. Likewise, the shape of the claws rarely changes that substantially from subadult to mature adult in other birds and known dinosaurs--at least, I'm not aware of them if they exist. Given such unusual growth stages, it's reasonable to conclude that there was some reason why, even though we can't know for sure what it was.

There are, theoretically, a few things that could be tested to further probe this hypothesis: did both adult and subadult Deinonychus have quill knobs in the ulna? Are they same kind of quill knobs? Did subadults have greater range of motion in the arms or the hips than adults? Do adults have different stomach contents than subadults? Answering some of these questions could give us greater resolution into what was going on with these unusual ontogenic variations, but for now it remains what it is: speculation.
TheMorlock Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Student General Artist
So cool.
Traheripteryx Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
The details are breathtaking! Almost like a photo! :clap:
ksdinoboy95 Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2014
so awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwsum bra!
aloha from kauai
Sombraptor Featured By Owner Edited Sep 5, 2014
I absolutely love this picture! It adds to my points when arguing with friends about dinosaurs - Dromaeosaurids were more like terrestrial birds of prey with teeth and more claws than the nightmare creatures portrayed in Jurassic Park. To be fair, it doesn't matter what they look like when they're ripping your intestines out with their toe-claws ;)
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Submitted on
September 4, 2014
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