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Ornitholestes

ORN - ith - oh - LESS - tees

Theropoda/Coeluridae
Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Bird robber"
Length: 6 feet 6 inches (2 m)
Diet: Carnivore (Meat-Eater)
Time: Late Jurassic
Location: North America

In 1900 a group of paleontologists from the American Museum of Natural History discovered the first-and so far the only-remains of the small theropod Ornitholestes in the famous Jurassic dinosaur beds at Bone Cabin Quarry in Wyoming in the western United States. Three years later, Henry Fairfield Osborn, who would later become the director of the American Museum of Natural History, described and named the dinosaur. He called it Ornitholestes because he speculated that it would probably have been a good bird catcher. This idea was further reinforced some time later when the famed painter of dinosaurs Charles Knight depicted Ornitholestes grabbing the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx (which was contemporary with Ornitholestes but from a different part of the world), with its hands.

There is no evidence to suggest that Ornitholestes did catch birds; at the same time, there is no reason to suppose that it did not. The uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Osborn seems to have mistakenly associated a hand from the same site, but from a different species, with the skull and partial skeleton of Ornitholestes. This hand had three fingers with sharp, curved claws, which seemed well suited to holding small prey.

The single existing specimen of Ornitholestes-consisting of an almost complete skeleton and a complete, but compressed skull-is on display in New York at the American Museum of Natural History. Some reconstructions of this dinosaur show Ornitholestes with a thin horn at the tip of its snout, right above the nose. No horn is evident on the existing specimen, but as the tip of the snout is damaged, it is quite possible, it is quite possible that there was a horn there.

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