The Elegant Jaw, Compsognathus
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The Elegant Jaw, Compsognathus

Compsognathus is a small theropod, which lived 150 million years ago

Compsognathus is a small theropod, which lived 150 million years ago. They were both the first therpod and the smallest dinosaur skeleton discovered by humans. Until the 1980s and 90s, they were thought to be the smallest dinosaur to ever walk this planet. Compsognathus is the closest relative to Archaeopteryx, the first avian dinosaur. Many people recognize this dinosaur from the blockbuster movie “the Lost World”; in the movie, they were referred to as “compys”.

When the first Compsognathus skeleton was found it was an amazing discovery for palaeontologists, as until then they believed that all dinosaurs were larger than man was. Fossil collector Joseph Oberndorfer in the Bavaria regions of Germany found the first skeleton in the 1850s. Joseph also found a preserved fossil of Archaeopteryx a few days later. The two discoveries threw the scientific world into chaos as it disproved much of their previous theories on dinosaurs. Dr. Johann A. Wagner named Compsognathus in 1859. Their name is Greek and means “elegant jaw”; named for the compy’s small size and fragile looking bones. In 1868, Dr. Thomas Huxely found that Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx were related due to the resemblance between the two skeletons.

For nearly a century and a half, Compsognathus was thought to be the smallest of all dinosaurs. They stood around 1 foot tall, 3 feet long and weigh between 2-8 pounds. They were small bipedal lizards with long hind legs, long tails and hands with three fingers with small sharp claws. In the movie, “Lost World” compys were portrayed as hunting in large packs, but scientists believe they would have hunted solo or in mated pairs. Like many dinosaurs, scientists believe they were good swimmers and could swim much like a crocodile.

Compys were opportunistic hunters; they ate anything they could catch and kill. Their prey included insects, fish, small lizards, small mammals, and baby dinosaurs if small enough. They were also scavengers, and scientists believe this was the only time Compsognathus would be seen in a large group. Being so small, they where prey to numerous predators; they were eaten by large lizards, large spiders, and juvenile dinosaurs.

Although, Compsognathus was neither the biggest nor the most deadly of dinosaurs, they are remarkable just they same. Thanks to the Compsognathus the scientific community was forced to rethink their views on dinosaurs. The Compsognathus may not have been the most ferocious of dinosaurs, but they have earned their place in the dinosaur greats all the same.

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