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a meat-eating coelophysid theropod dinosaur from the Late Triassic of North America.
Pronunciation: SEE-lo-FY-sis
Meaning: Hollow Form
Author/s: Cope (1889)
Synonyms: See below
First Discovery: New Mexico, USA
Chart Position: 48

Coelophysis bauri

The first remains of this small, slim, agile theropod were discovered in 1881 at either “Mesa Gallina” or “Arroyo Seco” (exact location data is long lost) by fossil-forager David Baldwin with just his trusty mule for company. E.D. Cope, so utterly underwhelmed, didn't even bother to describe them until 1871, but he made up for lost time when he managed to give the same specimen six different names in less than two years. At first he split its fossils between Marsh's Coelurus longicollis and his newly-coined Coelurus bauri (1887a), then he assigned these two species to the roll-call of Tanystropheus along with a Tanystropheus willistoni (1887b). Only in 1889 did he realise that he had an all new dinosaur on his hands and finally name Coelophysis — "hollow form" — in reference to its hollow bones.

Despite this moving and shaking, Coelophysis was based upon terribly fragmentary remains that were hardly worth the bother, so much so that it was in real danger of being dumped in the dreaded taxonomic dustbin. However, just like waiting for a bus in the rain paleontologists hung around for six decades then a bunch of specimens turned up all at once as George Whitaker found what would escalate into hundreds of specimens of all ages at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico in 1947, that had perished en masse, possibly the victims of a flash flood or other such naturally occurring disaster.

Problem is, the original Coelophysis material (four vertebrae and a piece of hip) was so poorly preserved that a comparison to these new fossils was nigh on impossible, so Adrian P. Hunt and Spencer G. Lucas gave them a new name; Rioarribasaurus colberti, in 1991. Despite being honored in the specific name, Edwin H. Colbert petitioned the ICZN to install a spectacular individual from Ghost Ranch as the new type (neotype) for Coelophysis based on little more than the laws of probability, and the specimen he chose was catalogued as AMNH 7224, the proposed holotype of Rioarribasaurus Colberti no less! The ICZN crawled at a snails pace as they weighed up the evidence until eventually granting Colbert his wish in 1996, and since then demand has been high.

Coelophysis was given a starring role in the BBC's "walking with dinosaurs" series which catapulted it to super-stardom and a guaranteed place on everyones 'A' list, following its 1981 adoption by New Mexico as their official state fossil and a 1998 trip on Endeavor to visit the Mir space station. Suprisingly, this wasn't the first time a dinosaur had been into space as Maiasaura — the good mother lizard — had a bone fragment and piece of eggshell dragged along on a Spacelab 2 mission in 1995. To this day, the reason for taking dinosaur fossils into space eludes us, and while we're not normally gambling men we're willing to bet it seemed like a brilliant idea to someone at the time.
Tooth variation
Erecting new taxa based solely on isolated theropod teeth has been occuring since fossil records began, but the results of a 2014 study by Lisa Buckley and Phil Currie confirmed that this practice is not such a good one, even for teeth with seemingly "unique" features. They studied 848 teeth from 23 skulls of Coelophysis bauri and found that those from smaller specimens differed significantly in size, shape and features compared to those of larger ones. Even teeth from the same mouth showed distinct variation depending on where they were positioned in the jaw, meaning thousands of loose teeth may have been misassigned down the years.
Era: Mesozoic
Epoch: Triassic
Stage: Rhaetian
Age range: 209-201 mya
Est. max. length: 3 meters
Est. max. hip height: 1 meters
Est. max. weight: 25 Kg
Diet: Carnivore
Coelurus bauri (Cope, 1887a), Coelurus longicollis (Cope, 1887a), Tanystropheus bauri (Cope, 1887b), Tanystropheus longicollis (Cope, 1887b), Tanystropheus willistoni (Cope, 1887b), Coelophysis longicollis (Cope, 1889), Coelophysis willistoni (Cope, 1889), Coelophysis collis (Haughton, 1932), Longosaurus longicollis (Welles, 1984), Rioarribasaurus colberti (Hunt and Lucas, 1991)
Possible synonyms
Podokesaurus (Talbot, 1911)
Gojirasaurus quayi (Carpenter, 1997)
Megapnosaurus (Ivie et al. 2001), previously known as Syntarsus (Raath, 1969)
• Cope ED (1889) "On a new genus of Triassic Dinosauria". American Naturalist. xxiii 23: 626.
• Naish D (2009) "The Great Dinosaur Discoveries". University of California Press.
• Nesbitt SJ, Irmis RB and Parker WG (2007) "A critical re-evaluation of the Late Triassic dinosaur taxa of North America". Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 5(2): 209–243.
• Colbert E (1964) "The Triassic dinosaur genera Podokesaurus and Coelophysis". American Museum Novitates, number 2168, February 21, 1964.
• Colbert E (1989) "The Triassic Dinosaur Coelophysis". Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin. 57: 160.
• Lucas SG, Sullivan RM, Hunt AP and Heckert AB (2004) "The Saga of Coelophysis". 56th NMGS Fall Field Conference, 2005
• Nesbitt SJ, Turner AH, Erickson GM and Norell MA (2006) "Prey choice and cannibalistic behaviour in the theropod Coelophysis". Biology Letters. 22. 2 (4): 611–614.
• Paul GS (2010) "The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs".
• Buckley LG and Currie PJ (2014) "Variation in the Dentition of Coelophysis bauri". New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 63: 73 pp.
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To cite this page:
Atkinson, L. "COELOPHYSIS :: from DinoChecker's dinosaur archive".
›. Web access: 23rd Mar 2017.