An Ultimate Guide to the Microraptor: A Tiny Plunderer

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 23rd September 2023

Name Meaning“Tiny Plunderer”Height1 to 1.2 feet (30 to 35 centimeters)
Pronunciationmy-kro-RAP-torLength77 cm (2.5 feet) 
EraMesozoicEarly CretaceousWeight1.25–1.88 kilograms (2.8–4.1 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Saurischia & TheropodaLocationChina (Asia)

Microraptor Pictures

Microraptor | Warpaintcobra via iStock

The Microraptor

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Microraptor Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Microraptor Concept

The dinosaurs were a diverse group of animals.

They came in all sizes, from giant beasts as tall as 5-story buildings to small crow-sized creatures.

The Microraptor was one of the dinosaurs on the smaller end of the spectrum.

This tiny dromaeosaurid dinosaur lived in Asia during the early Cretaceous period, about 125 to 120 million years ago. 

The name “Microraptor” is a Greek word that translates as “small thief,” an obvious reference to the tiny size of this dinosaur.

Microraptor is the smallest of all the raptor dinosaurs (dromaeosaurids).

Members of the group are known for their bird-like qualities, including the possession of feathers on their limbs.

Microraptor is also the smallest dinosaur that we currently know.

A small flying dinosaur with four wings in the Cretaceous Period of China
The Microraptor was a small flying dinosaur with four wings in the Cretaceous Period of China | CoreyFord via iStock

It had many interesting features, including the possession of not one but two pairs of wings.

Despite its small size, the Microraptor is well-known from fossil records.

More than 300 specimens have been discovered so far.

The discovery of this dinosaur has unlocked a lot of clues about the dromaeosaurid dinosaurs, their evolution, and their link to present-day birds.

Read on to discover some of the interesting facts about the tiny plunderer. 

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

A flying dinosaur reptile and lived in China and Mongolia in the Cretaceous Periods
Microraptor was a flying dinosaur reptile and lived in China and Mongolia in the Cretaceous Periods | CoreyFord via iStock

Measuring roughly 2.5 feet long from nose to tail, the Microraptor is the smallest dinosaur ever discovered.

It weighed between 1.25 and 1.88 kilograms (2.8–4.1 lbs) and had a wingspan of about 3.5 feet (1.1 meters).

This size estimate puts the dinosaur around the same size as a pigeon or a crow.

Due to its small size, the Microraptor is often compared to other bird-like dinosaurs like the Jurassic Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx.

Not only was this dinosaur not related to them, but it also evolved a lot later than it did (up to 25 million years after the Archaeopteryx).

The Microraptor was also significantly smaller than some of its closest relatives, like the popular Velociraptor and Deinonychus

The most intriguing part of this dinosaur’s discovery was its plumage.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Microraptor Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Microraptor Size Comparison Chart

Scientists discovered asymmetric feathers on the fossils of this dinosaur which resemble the wings of modern birds.

But unlike today’s birds, the Microraptor had wings on both its forelimbs and hindlimb.

These wings were broad and strong enough to hold the dinosaur’s weight. 

The individual feathers had vanes and other structures similar to that of birds.

This suggests that they would have allowed controlled movement through the air and may have sustained flight, contrary to earlier speculations that they were just for gliding. 

Microraptor had sleek and streamlined bodies that would have further helped with flight.

The dinosaur also had a long, slender tail for balance.

The tail also had a diamond-shaped feathered fan on its end.

The limbs of the Microraptor were well-adapted for climbing and grasping prey but did not really support the ground movement.

A small blue and purple feathered dinosaur sits on a fallen tree in a dense fern-covered Cretaceous era forest
A small blue and purple feathered Microraptor sits on a fallen tree in a dense fern-covered Cretaceous era forest | Daniel Eskridge via iStock

The dinosaur had sharp claws on its feet, which it likely used for hunting and climbing trees.

Microraptor had a slender snout filled with sharp, pointed teeth, which suggests they primarily fed on small animals and insects.

Its eyes were large and positioned on the sides of its head, providing a wide field of vision for tracking prey and avoiding predators.

By studying the nature of the pigment cells on fossilized feathers of this dinosaur, scientists have been able to determine its color.

Microraptor had thick, black, layered feathers, which may have been iridescent, meaning they had a metallic shine.

They probably used their glistening wings for sexual behavior, as seen in many modern bird species like peacocks and hummingbirds.

Habitat and Distribution

Microraptor was alive during the Early Cretaceous period, approximately 120 million years ago.

The tiny plunderer lived in an area that is now in modern eastern Asia.

More specifically, the dinosaur’s home range covers present-day China.

Hundreds of fossils belonging to the Microraptor have been found in several locations in China, including Liaoning, Shandong, and Jiangxi provinces.

The abundance of fossil discovery suggests that the Microraptor was most likely one of the most abundant non-avian dinosaurs to have lived in its ecosystem. 

Holotype IVPP V 13352 under normal light
The holotype of Microraptor gui, IVPP V 13352 under normal light | Image via Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

Microraptor was among the most abundant non-avian dinosaurs in its ecosystem.

Back in the Early Cretaceous, the region where the Microraptor lived was characterized by a diverse array of ecosystems.

It had a warm and humid climate thanks to high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that raised global temperatures.

The region had an abundance of dense tropical forests and mixed coniferous forests.

Available evidence suggests Microraptor probably lived a predominantly arboreal lifestyle in these forested environments.

Microraptor flying above the dense forest
Microraptor flying above the dense forest | MR1805 via iStock

The presence of feathers and a streamlined body shape suggests Microraptor was well-adapted to living on trees.

Although most dromaeosaurids were land-dwellers, the size of the wings on the Microraptor’s forelimbs and the presence of wings on its hindlimbs would have made walking and running on land difficult.

This is why scientists think it spent a significant amount of time in trees rather than on the ground. 

Behavior and Diet 

A Microraptor perched on a tree branch
A Microraptor perched on a tree branch | Sergey Krasovskiy via GettyImages

Like other dromaeosaurid dinosaurs, Microraptor was a bipedal dinosaur that moved predominantly on its hindlimbs while holding its forelimbs in a partially-folded position.

However, it was probably not well-adapted to moving on the ground due to its anatomical peculiarities.

In the trees, Microraptor was probably capable of climbing and perching, using its agile limbs and claws to navigate branches.

In the past, scientists believed that the Microraptor’s wings were only for gliding from trees over short distances, similar to flying squirrels today.

However, recent studies suggest that the Microraptor may have been efficient at flying thanks to its complex wing structure.

In fact, some scientists believe it was possibly a better flyer than Archaeopteryx, which is often considered the closest dinosaur to modern birds. 

It’s difficult to determine the social behavior of Microraptors despite the abundance of fossil evidence.

However, some researchers suggest that it was probably a solitary hunter.

Microraptor hunting a small lizard on a tree branch
Microraptor hunting a small lizard on a tree branch | Vitor Silva via GettyImages

This hypothesis is based on its small size and the limited resources available in its environment.

Also, most Microraptor specimens found so far are isolated individuals rather than groups or nests, suggesting that they were largely solitary.

Like the Velociraptor and other related dinosaurs, Microraptor was a carnivorous dinosaur.

Due to its size, its diet most likely consisted of small animals and insects.

This dinosaur’s sharp teeth and claws indicate that it was probably an active predator capable of capturing and killing its prey.

Microraptor showing its sharp teeth
Microraptor showing its sharp teeth | CoreyFord via iStock

Microraptor likely relied on ambush tactics, using their agility and flight abilities to surprise prey from the trees or quickly chase them on the ground.

Microraptor’s diet would have included small vertebrates like reptiles, mammals, fishes, and primitive birds.

In 2011, scientists found fossils of the Microraptor with bones of an arboreal bird in its abdomen.

There’s also a chance that it fed on other small dinosaurs.

The insect population was quite high during the Early Cretaceous, and this dinosaur might have consumed a lot of insects and other invertebrates too. 

Life Cycle 

Microraptor gui takes advantage of its four wings to make itself look as large as possible to its partner
Microraptor gui takes advantage of its four wings to make itself look as large as possible to its partner | Emily Willoughby via GettyImages

Microraptor reproduced sexually, with individuals likely engaging in courtship displays and mating rituals.

While specific details about their reproductive behavior are not well-known, the possession of iridescent feathers suggests that the dinosaur engaged in elaborate courtship displays.

Like modern birds, such as peacocks, male Microraptors probably used their glossy coat to impress females. 

Microraptors laid eggs and probably cared for their offspring to some extent.

Although their exact growth pattern is not well known, dromaeosaurids, in general, went through rapid growth during the early stages of their life.

Microraptor most likely had a high metabolic rate, relying on an abundance of food resources to power their growth and rapid development.

Evolution and History 

Microraptor showing its elegant wings
Microraptor showing its elegant wings | CoreyFord via GettyImages

Microraptor belongs to the family of dinosaurs known as dromaeosaurids, commonly referred to as “raptors.”

Dromaeosaurids are small to medium-sized theropods that lived during the Mesozoic Era.

Microraptor is considered to be one of the most basal and primitive dromaeosaurids, meaning it represents an early stage in the evolution of this group.

One of the most notable aspects of Microraptor’s evolution is its possession of feathered wings.

Microraptor shows several anatomical features similar to those seen in many of the early birds, such as Archaeopteryx.

This has led to speculations that this dinosaur represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of flight. 

Gage Beasley's Microraptor Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Microraptor Stuffed Plush Toy

However, the fact that the Microraptor evolved up to 25 million years after the late Jurassic Archaeopteryx implies that the dinosaurs evolved bird-like features multiple times during the course of the Mesozoic Era.

However, genetic sequencing shows that only one lineage survives into modern times. 

Another evolutionary fact about the Microraptor that has puzzled scientists is their possession of four wings.

It raises the question of whether all modern birds underwent a four-wing phase during their evolution or whether the Microraptor was just an evolutionary side-branch with no living descendants.

Most scientists seem to favor the four-wing argument, which would mean that the ancestors of all birds once had unusually long leg feathers now missing in modern species. 

Microraptor gui, a small four-winged dromaeosaur, eating a small fish
Microraptor gui, a small four-winged dromaeosaur, eating a small fish | Emily Willoughby via GettyImages

Examining Microraptor’s relationship with other raptors suggests that the dromaeosaurids that came after it were secondarily flightless.

This means flightless members of the group, like Velociraptors and Deinonychus, lost their flying ability due to evolution despite evolving from flying ancestors.

This dramatic scenario is seen in many modern birds, like ostriches — incapable of flight. 

Interactions With Other Species

Microraptor was an active predator, hunting small animals and insects in its ecosystem.

Its diet may have consisted of lizards, small mammals, birds, and possibly other small dinosaurs.

Microraptor’s sharp teeth and claws suggest it was a proficient hunter, capable of capturing and killing prey easily. 

But because of its size, Microraptor may have faced threats from larger carnivorous dinosaurs in its ecosystem too.

Two Microraptor dinosaurs fly near mountain waterfalls in prehistoric times
Two Microraptor dinosaurs fly near mountain waterfalls in prehistoric times | CoreyFord via GettyImages

Larger theropods like Sinraptor and Dilong lived in China during the Early Cretaceous, and they could have posed a risk to Microraptor, too, especially when it was on the ground.

Microraptors’ agility and flying abilities may have provided some protection against predators like this. 

Within its ecosystem, Microraptor may have competed for food and other resources with other small predators.

This may have included similar-sized dromaeosaurids, larger theropods, and other small carnivores like the reptilians and early mammals.

Cultural Significance

Scientifically, the discovery of the Microraptor has been instrumental in advancing our understanding of dinosaur evolution, flight, and the link between non-avian dinosaurs and birds.

Before this dinosaur’s discovery, Compsognathus was considered the world’s smallest dinosaur, and Archaeopteryx was the most popular link to modern birds.

The discovery of the Microraptor has led scientists to revisit some of these facts.

Most notably, Microraptor has helped scientists reconstruct the evolutionary pathways that led to the development of flight in birds.

Microraptors are known from several exceptionally well-preserved fossil specimens.

Specimen at the Beijing Museum of Natural History
Specimen at the Beijing Museum of Natural History | Jonathan Chen via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

This has provided valuable insights into the morphology, behavior, and evolutionary adaptations of the dromaeosaurid dinosaurs.

It has also contributed to our knowledge of the diversity of this group of small theropod dinosaurs.

Microraptors’ unique appearance, small size, and evolutionary significance have captured the interest of dinosaur enthusiasts.

The tiny plunderer has been featured in numerous books, documentaries, and television shows.

In most cases, emphasis is on the dinosaur’s feathered appearance, arboreal lifestyle, and its link to the evolutionary history of flight.

For instance, “The Great Dinosaur Feather Mystery,” a documentary produced by the BBC in 2012, explores the significance of feathered dinosaurs in the context of the evolution of flight and features the Microraptor.

Specimen in the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature
Specimen in the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature | Bruce McAdam via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

It showcases the fossil evidence and features expert interviews to shed light on the fascinating story of the Microraptor and its evolutionary significance.


Microraptor is one of the smallest dinosaurs ever discovered.

Despite its size, this diminutive dinosaur is quite significant.

It had notable bird-like features but still preserved many dromaeosaurid characteristics and was a ferocious hunter.

The preservation of very significant details in the fossils of this dinosaur has revealed valuable insights into the evolution of flight in birds. 

So while Microraptor may not have been an apex predator that towered high above its contemporaries, there’s still a lot we can learn about this dinosaur and its relatives that dominated various ecosystems during the Mesozoic era. 


Where were Microraptor fossils found?

Fossils of Microraptor have been discovered in northeastern China.

The type fossil was found in the Jiufotang Formation, located in the Liaoning Province of China.

This region is known for its exceptional fossil preservation, including several exquisite species. 

Is Microraptor the smallest dinosaur?

Yes, Microraptor is the smallest dinosaur ever discovered.

It weighed roughly 0.5–1.4 kilograms (1.1–3.1 pounds).

Are there any living descendants of Microraptor?

No. Microraptor had no living descendants.

The dinosaur is considered an evolutionary dead-end since none of its descendants survive into the modern era.


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