Prehistoric Animals


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The Compsognathus, one of the smallest known dinosaurs, was about the size of a turkey. Its name is reminiscent of the delicacy of its jaws, but it is actually a delicate animal. There are only two skeletons of Compsognathus. The first, found in 1859 and dating back to the Upper Jurassic period, came from the lithographic limestone of southern Germany. It was close to Archaeopteryx. This specimen had perfectly preserved legs, and a lizard, its last meal, was found at the same time. The second skeleton was discovered near Canjuers in France. Compsognathus may have had two-fingered hands. While the French specimen had three metacarpal bones (the bones of the hand), it is not certain that they all had knuckles (the bones of the fingers) attached. Some think that this agile predator had only two fingers, unlike other theropods. Nevertheless, the hands not being intact, it is possible that the phalanges of the third finger were not found or identified, the hand of the French specimen being too badly preserved to accredit this thesis. What is certain is that Sinosauropteryx, its closest relative, had a hand with three fingers. Compsognathus has long been instrumental in studies on the origin of birds. This is because it was found in the same deposits as Archaeopteryx and was about the same size that we can make a comparison between two different primitive species. In the nineteenth century, the similarities between the two fossils often highlighted the link between dinosaurs and birds. Like Sinosauropteryx, it is possible that the Compsognathus had small fibrous structures such as feathers on the body, but known specimens did not verify this hypothesis. The two films from the novels of Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park and The Lost World, have shown it chasing larger prey with its poisonous bite. But it is likely that it was limited to catching small prey using its claws and protruding teeth.