That giant compsognathid – Sinocalliopteryx

Compsognathid theropods are small. It’s kind of a default setting for them really. While obviously both juveniles neither the original Compsognathus nor Juravenator top out even close to 1 m in length and one would not really expect them to get much bigger. The second Compsognathus specimen was around a metre long it’s true, though that hardly makes it large compared to even other small theropods (like troodontids and dromaeosaurs) and Sinosauropteryx is pretty tiny as well. Finally we have the rather larger Huaxiagnathus but at only around 1.5 m, one could hardly call this big.IMGP3513

It was then quite a surprise in 2007 when a ‘giant’ compsognathid was described in Sinocalliopteryx. This animal is nearly 2.5 m long making it considerably larger than other known taxa, though of course still small by theropod standards (though big enough to hunt and consume other theropods – part of a dromaeosaur is preserved in the stomach). Shown here is a cast on display in Jinzhou, which sadly does not really convey much of the detail of the original specimen. The colour is rather different and the well preserved protofeathers on the neck and tail are not reproduced.

Overall this is a little known and less illustrated theropod and given the endless interest in feathered dinosaurs seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It’s a shame that neither the cast nor my photos aren’t better but there is little out there online so this will at least add a mediocre entry to this small canon.

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5 Responses to “That giant compsognathid – Sinocalliopteryx”


  1. 1 David 06/08/2009 at 9:31 pm

    Just wondering why you used the term “hunt and consume” – couldn’t it be just as likely that it’s the remains of a scavenged meal? Is there a reason that you believe otherwise?

    • 2 David Hone 06/08/2009 at 9:56 pm

      Well in the original paper the authors suggest that it was killed and eaten though admittedly without any evidence to back it up. It certainly was big enough to hunt and kill small theropods even if that particular one in the stomach was not hunted and killed on this occasion.

      Finally one thing that does suggest that it was a prey item is the fact that it is a leg. Carcass consumption (at least in extant faunas) has a fairly strict progression and the legs are usually one of the first things to go as they have lots of muscles and can usually be stripped from the bones fairly easily. If this particular carcass had been scavenged therfore it would be odd that the leg was the only thing left worth eating when it would likely be the first thing consumed, though of course it’s pretty hard to tell from just one incidence that I’ve not actually seen.

  2. 3 Zach Miller 07/08/2009 at 12:37 am

    Ah, compsognathids! They don’t get nearly enough attention.

  3. 4 luisvrey 02/09/2012 at 1:06 am

    Hi David… any hope we can see good pictures of those details you mentioned? I’d like to see the feathery integument in detail!

    • 5 David Hone 02/09/2012 at 7:42 am

      Sadly not Luis, this is the only photo I have and that’s a cast, not the actual holotype. it was behind horribly reflective glass and at an odd angle so despite several attempts this is really all I have, though frankly it’s considerably better than the photos in the official PDF of the holotype description.


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