Procompsognathus (Wikimedia Commons).


Procompsognathus (Greek for "before the elegant jaw"); pronounced PRO-comp-SOG-nah-thuss


Swamps of western Europe

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (210 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet long and 5-10 pounds


Small animals and insects

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; bipedal posture; long legs and snout


About Procompsognathus

Despite its name--"before Compsognathus"--the evolutionary relationship of Procompsognathus to the later and much-better known Compsognathus is uncertain at best.

Because of the poor quality of this dinosaur's fossil remains, the best we can say about Procompsognathus is that it was a carnivorous reptile, but beyond that, it's unclear if it was an early theropod dinosaur or a late archosaur akin to the bipedal Marasuchus (and thus not a dinosaur at all). In either event, though, Procompsognathus (and other reptiles like it) certainly lay at the base of later dinosaur evolution, either as direct progenitors of this fearsome breed or great-uncles a few times removes.

One of the little known facts about Procompsognathus is that it was this dinosaur, and not Compsognathus, that had cameos in Michael Crichton's novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Crichton portrays "compies" as slightly venomous (in the books, Procompsognathus bites render their victims drowsy and ready for the kill), as well as eager consumers of sauropod poop. Needless to say, both of these attributes are complete inventions; to date, paleontologists have yet to identify any venomous dinosaurs, and there is no fossil evidence that any dinosaurs ate excrement (though it's certainly not outside the range of possibility).

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Strauss, Bob. "Procompsognathus." ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2017, Strauss, Bob. (2017, January 24). Procompsognathus. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Procompsognathus." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2018).