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Coelophysis

SEE - loe - FIE - sis

Theropoda/Podokesauridae
Karen Carr. Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Hollow form"
Length: 10 feet (3 m)
Diet: Carnivore (Meat-Eater)
Time: Late Triassic
Location: North America

When Edward Drinker Cope described Coelophysis in 1881, his description was based on only a few fragments he found in late Triassic sediments in New Mexico. Thanks, however, to a treasure trove of more than 100 skeletons of various sizes that a team of paleontologists discovered in 1947 at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, Coelophysis is now one of the best known of all nonavian dinosaurs. It is also one of the most primitive of known theropods.

Like most other basal theropods, Coelophysis was relatively small. Many of the specimens from Ghost Ranch represented adult animals only about 5 feet (1.5 m) long. The remains of some of the smallest specimens were found inside the rib cages of larger Coelophysis. This led to a theory that these dinosaurs gave birth to live young. What now seems most likely, however, is that Coelophysis was a cannibalistic animal that included members of its own species in its diet.

Most theropod hands had three fingers. The most primitive known theropods, however, had more than three. Coelophysis had four fingers on each hand, but the fourth digit was extremely small and may have been invisible in a living animal.

We cannot bt certain why so many skeletons turned up in a fairly restricted area at Ghost Ranch. However, geologists think it likely that this region, like tropical regions today, was prone to seasonal wet and dry cycles. It is possible that a whole herd of Coelophysis died during a particularly harsh dry season and was buried rapidly during a flood at the beginning of the ensuing wet season.

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