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Compsognathus Growth Series

Back in the mid-1800's, fossils dug from the Solnhofen Limestone deposits near Eichstätt in Germany's Bavarian region produced wide acclaim for the preservation of pterosaurs, insects, crocs, snakes, lizards, and so forth. One specimen, a reptilian dinosaur, was found with a lizard coiled in its belly. Germany's Andreas Wagner, given the responsibility of describing the specimen, named it Compsognathus longipes, or "long-footed delicate jaw". A decade later another specimen was referred to the species, but it later turned out to be an Archaeopteryx specimen, and a new specimen wouldn't be found until the 1950's, when French researchers at the Solnhofen-aged site of Canjuers would recover a new specimen, much larger than the original, but would name it Compsognathus corallestris, or "delicate-jaw, dweller among corals," as the authors beleived the arms to be adapted into flippers and it swam in the warm, shallow seas of the Late Jurassic in Europe. But speculation has always considered the specimens to be the same species, with ontogenetic reasons accounting for the differences. The top specimen above is this French specimen, while the original German specimen is just below and to the right of it. At this point in history, the most substantial debate in regards to this odd, generic creature would be the number of fingers. Both specimens are preserved with only enough phalanges and claws to account for two fingers on each hand, as shown, and this argues the hands only had two fingers each. However others have argued that the third metacarpal, which is preserved, should preclude the presence of a third digit (shown here as a stub), but also fully developed with a claw. This evidence is lacking. At least until about 10 years ago, when two important discoveries were made.

The first was Sinosauropteryx prima, a "bird" found in China's Liaoning Province and from a formation just about 15 million years after the Solnhofen. This animal, with it's fantastically long tail and coating of fine, clumped-strands of "dinofuzz" (but similar to natal down in birds), also possessed three distinct, robust fingers on each hand, and more so, the hands were extremely large and heavy-clawed. This seems in direct contrast to the slender construction in Compsognathus. The second discovery was a small, peculiar skull from Germany's Solnhofen. Only recently, it was fully prepared and found to preserve a nearly complete and articulated skeleton missing only elements of the tail. Moreover, like Compsognathus longipes, the vertebrae were not fused together, and the head is extremely large compared to the rest of the animal. This results in a heavy-headed animal, and it is shown on the bottom of the picture in scale. It was named Juravenator starki, or "the Stark family's Jura [region] hunter". The skull is slightly smaller, 20% less, than the holotype of Compsognathus, while the remainder of the skeleton is clearly much smaller than that, showing features relating to the juvenile growth of this group of animals.

However, most peculiarly, Juravenator is likely a juvenile specimen of Compsognathus, and there is a revival of the idea that C. corallestris is an adult C. longipes, showing us that what you see above, rather than three different species, might be the same species in various stages of life.
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digitaleva's avatar
I'm going to be sculpting a complete skull based off of comparison of the Compsognathus to a larger, yet similar creature of about the same time: Coelophysis. As they are quite similar, it could be reasoned that their skeletons were virtual scale models of each other. I'm making it at the adult size, which, assuming I've done my scale work correctly comes off with the following dimensions:
Width: 3" (7.5 cm)
Length: 3/4" (2 cm)
Height: 1 1/4" (3 cm)

I'll be posting photos when it is finished.
Qilong's avatar
Coelophysis and Compsognathus are not close relatives, nor were they living at the same time. Coelophysis lived during the Late Triassic of North America (and southern Africa), while Compsognathus lived during the Late Jurassic of Germany and France. The largest specimen in the illustration I have up there is what is considered an adult Compsognathus longipes, merely that it was based originally on a specimen said to be of another species (scientists no longer think this to be true).

BTW: Coelophysis is way too cool to mix in with lowly Compsognathus. We have baby Coelophysis skeletons mixed in in large collections of teenagers and adults when they all died at the same time, so you can actually look at babies right next to adults. These are based on the infamous Ghost Ranch specimens. This site - [link] - has a lot of info on a block of Coelophysis bauri, the species which is so famous.

Good luck with your sculpt!
Wynterhawke07's avatar
Is that where the misconception that Coelophysis were cannibals comes from?
Qilong's avatar
That actually comes from a specimen of Coelophysis bauri in which it seemed a juvenile specimen was inside the ribcage of an adult. This was later shown to be erroneous: there were two sets of adult ribs, the left and right sides, lying on top of the juvenile, indicating the adult was laying on the baby when the animals died and settled down in the huge plate they are now found on.This work was uncovered by Rob Gay, whom you can Google for more information.
Wynterhawke07's avatar
Heh... I used to have a bunch of dinosaur books as a kid and they all claimed Coelophysis were cannibals... and they also depicted all the raptors Jurassic Park-style too. How science has progressed, no?
Qilong's avatar
digitaleva's avatar
The reason I did the mix was to reference general skull anatomy of a predatory dinosaur from the top. I could have sworn that there was evidence of their times having briefly overlapped (Dinosaurs from the late Jurassic have been found with their bones mixed in with those from the Early Cretaceous). As I stated before, the mix was to get the skull looking right from the top.

I've seen the Ghost Ranch block. It is GORGEOUS! I'd love to sculpt a full Coelophysis skeleton at one point.
Elruu's avatar
Was this species covered with feathers too?
Qilong's avatar
There are some species rlated that are covered witha fine "fur"-like covering, but not true feathers as we see in birds.
thomcomstock's avatar
Just at a glance I can see how the Juravenator starki JME Sch 200 skull and skeleton might lead one to believe this to be the juvenile of the holotypical Compsognathus longipes (BSP AS I 536) except that the former might appear distinctly 'robustus' to the second's 'gracile'., but I cannot see how the Compsognathus corallestris (MNHM CNJ 79) skull resembles either. Of course, I am viewing these with far less than an expert eye.
Qilong's avatar
Well, note that these are based on an artistic rendering, and the skulls themselves are not shown. However, the material known is in most cases fragmentary and partially fractured, as in the holotype. Juravenator may not be a specimen of Compsognathus, or it may be a distinct species, or distinct (for example, the maxilla is similar to Huaxiagnathus and the ulna of Juravenator is also similar to Hhuaxiagnathus as well as Sinosauropteryx). There is also the problem of the manus, as phalanges suggest two for Compsognathus, but include all three, albeit with a tiny third digit in Juravenator. That said, the skulls are odd and the rostral region of the snout in the Compsognathus holotype does not allow a lot of interpretation, especially since the premaxilla is a fragment. Yet again, we do not know a precise ontogeny, and this idea is offered as a suggestion.
olofmoleman's avatar
Sorry to revive this but I have to agree with that the skulls don't look very similar, the skull of Compsognathus corallestris here looks most like Juravenator starki, they have a much more stubby nose compared to Compsognathus longipes, which has a more pointy snout overal, the neck on C. longipes also seems shorter then the other two. Overall it looks like a weird link between the two others.
Though the C. corallestris and J. starki do seem quite similar.
Qilong's avatar
This may be true. My issue is that we have a sample size of two. This doesn't tell us what that variation indicates. Indeed, the variation between the specimens is virtually limited to what can be explained as either size-related, sex-related, or age-related features, or systematic variation. We have a name for the French Compsognathus, so at least in this regard we are already set should it prove to be systematic in nature.
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