Deinonychus (pronounced /daɪˈnɒnɪkəs/ dye-NON-ə-kəs) (Greek δεινός, 'terrible' and ὄνυξ, genitive ὄνυχος 'claw') was a genus of carnivorous dromaeosaurid dinosaur. There is one described species, Deinonychus antirrhopus. This 3.4 meter (11 ft) long dinosaur lived during the early Cretaceous Period, about 115-108 million years ago (from the mid-Aptian to early Albian stages). Fossils have been recovered from the U.S. states of Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma, in rocks of the Cloverly Formation and Antlers Formation, though teeth that may belong to Deinonychus have been found much farther east in Maryland.
Paleontologist John Ostrom's study of Deinonychus in the late 1960s revolutionized the way scientists thought about dinosaurs, leading to the "Dinosaur renaissance" and igniting the debate on whether or not dinosaurs were warm-blooded. Before this, the popular conception of dinosaurs had been one of plodding, reptilian giants. Ostrom noted the small body, sleek, horizontal, posture, ratite-like spine, and – especially – the enlarged raptorial claws on the feet, which suggested an active, agile predator.
"Terrible claw" refers to the unusually large, sickle-shaped talon on the second toe of each hind foot. The fossil YPM 5205 preserves a large, strongly curved ungual. In life, archosaurs have a horny sheath over this bone which extends the length. Ostrom looked at crocodile and bird claws and reconstructed the claw for YPM 5205 as over 120 millimetres (4.7 in) long. The species name antirrhopus means “counter balance”, which refers to John Ostrom's idea about the function of the tail. As in other dromaeosaurids, the tail vertebrae have a series of ossified tendons and super-elongated bone processes. These features seemed to make the tail into a stiff counterbalance, but a fossil of the very closely related Velociraptor mongoliensis (IGM 100/986) has an articulated tail skeleton that is curved laterally in a long S–shape. This suggests that, in life, the tail could swish to the sides with a high degree of flexibility.
In both the Cloverly and Antlers Formation, Deinonychus remains have been found closely associated with those of the ornithopod Tenontosaurus. Teeth discovered associated with Tenontosaurus specimens imply it was hunted or at least scavenged upon by Deinonychus.