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Authors: @pakasuchus and @thebadlizard                                 Published: June 2015

Journal: Record of Archosaur Welfare and Research (RAWR)      Images: CC-BY-NC.

Abstract

We present a case report of feather plucking in Velociraptor mongoliensis, its presentation, diagnostics, treatment and outcome.

Presentation

blood taking copy
Figure 1: Manual restraint for venipuncture. Placing a towel around the forelimbs may prevent injury to staff members.

We examined a 4 year old female velociraptor (Velociraptor mongoliensis) presented by her owner for a routine check up, with a six month history of feather-plucking.

“Bitey” had been in her owners’ possession for 3.5 years, having been purchased from a commercial breeder (InGen®).

She was housed in isolation, in an indoor enclosure with metal flooring. Artificial heat and light was provided on a 12 hour day/night cycle. She had been fed primarily a diet of roast dinners and occasional whole dachshunds. A calcium supplement was offered on Wednesdays.

Feed and enrichment activities were provided during daylight hours.

Diagnostics

Figure 2: lateral radiograph shows no abnormalities
Figure 2: A lateral whole body radiograph shows no abnormalities.

A visual inspection was performed, followed by a clinical examination under general anaesthesia.

Extensive feather loss was noted [Figure 3] over the entire body, along with mild pyoderma and erythema. The animal also had a mild pronation deformity of both wrists, which was deemed to be an incidental finding (1). Despite the high prevalence of Trichomonas in therapods (2), no evidence of infection was found in this case.

As part of a standard work-up, we took whole body x-rays [Figure 3], submitted blood for routine haematology and biochemistry [Figure 1], performed a coelomic endoscopy, and examined a three day pooled faecal sample.

Whole body x-rays were unremarkable. PCR of blood was negative for circovirus using standard avian tests, and faecal PCR was negative for chlamydia. Blood levels of lead and zinc were within normal ranges. An endoscopic exam confirmed that the subject was female, and both ovaries appeared normal (3).

Treatment

As the common medical causes had been ruled out, we suspected that the feather plucking behaviour was primarily behavioural in origin. Velociraptors are a social species, and when housed alone may be more prone to anxiety-related behavioural problems (although this observation is a source of debate amongst dromaeosaur keepers). (4)

The owner implemented several husbandry changes under our guidance. Firstly, the indoor habitat was changed to an outdoor paddock, with access to a heated indoor enclosure. Shrubberies were positioned around the enclosure as additional cover. Whole dachshunds remained on the diet schedule as a weekly item, in addition to alternating feeds of protoceratops haunch (5) and politicians who misuse statistics.

Feeding times and enrichment activities were rescheduled to dusk and after dark, providing a more natural nocturnal lifestyle (6), and socialisation sessions with other raptors was arranged.

“Bitey” was reassessed 6 weeks later; scanty feather regrowth was evident. The owner also reported an improvement in her general demeanor – in particular, her problem solving skills. “Bitey” appears to be an intelligent female.

Twelve weeks after initial presentation, feather regrowth was almost complete [Figure 3] and there was no sign of behavioural problems.

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Figure 3: (A) Photograph of “Bitey” in her enclosure, just prior to first examination. (B) “Bitey” in her new outdoor paddock, 12 weeks later.

Discussion

Due in part to the high prevalence of popular misinformation surrounding the keeping of this species, the owners in this case were completely unaware that it is normal for velociraptors to possess feathers.

We therefore encourage keepers and enthusiasts to embrace the growing body of evidence (8) that these marvellous creatures should have a variety of plumage distribution and colour, and to present alopecic individuals for appropriate veterinary care.

References

Note: the authors have deliberately referenced open-source papers and science blogs.

(1) Hone, D., Theropods are clappers not slappers, Archosaur Musings 2009 

(2) Wolff et al., Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs, PLOS One 2009

(3) Switek, B., Exquisite bird fossils reveal egg-producing ovary, Nature News 2013

(4) Switek, B., Dinosaurs behaving badly: Did velociraptors hunt in packs?, The Guardian 2011

(5) Hone et al., New evidence for a trophic relationship between the dinosaurs Velociraptor and Protoceratops, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 2010

(6) Yong, E., How we know Velociraptor hunted at night, Phenomena 2011

(7) http://media.giphy.com/media/5koWDaC1PFz8Y/giphy.gif

(8) Turner et al., Feather quill knobs in the dinosaur Velociraptor, Science 2007

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