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Compsognathus is an extinct genus of small theropod dinosaurs that lived around 150 million years ago. It is the very first theropod dinosaur known from almost complete fossil specimen.

It was thought to be the smallest known dinosaur genus till the discovery of smaller dinosaurs like Microraptor, Parvicursor and Caenagnathasia. For decades, Archaeopteryx was believed to be its closest related genus.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Order Saurischia
Suborder Theropoda
Family Compsognathidae
Subfamily Compsognathinae
Genus Compsognathus
Species Compsognathus longipes (Type Species)
Compsognathus corallestris (Synonym)

Quick Information

Name Meaning Elegant jaw
Pronunciation Komp-SOG-no-thus or KOMP-sog-NAH-thus
Geological Time Period Tithonian age, Late Jurassic period
Size Length – 89 to 130 cm
Height – 24 to 27 cm at hips
Femur (thigh bone) 11 cm long
Tail size 20 to 28 cm
Weight 7 to 9 lbs
Range/Location Europe
Diet Carnivorous
Habitat Coastal Environment
Birth type (Reproduction) Eggs
Locomotion Bipedal
Top Speed 64k/h (39.77m/h)

Physical Description

Compsognathus had long and narrow skull; pointed snout; slender jaws; and long and flexible neck. The skull had five pairs of fenestrae. Their eye sockets were proportionally larger given the size of their skull. They had small yet sharp teeth. Some paleontologists believe that Compsognathus might have been feathered like some of its relatives, such as Sinosauropteryx and Sinocalliopteryx. It is believed that they had hollow bones. Their forelimbs were shorter than the hindlimbs with three digits. They had long tail which is believed to have maintained counterbalance while running or walking.

History and Discovery

This genus is known from two almost complete skeletons. The first specimen (89 cm long) was found by Dr. Oberndorfer in the 1850s in the limestone deposits in the Riedenburg-Kelheim region in Bavaria, Germany. Many research reports still describe this genus as chicken-sized or turkey-sized dinosaurs, but most of the researchers believe that the German specimen was of a baby.

The second specimen was discovered by Louis Ghirardi early in the 1970s in the Portlandian lithographic limestone of Canjuers near Nice, France. The specimen (MNHN CNJ 79) was earlier described as a separate Compsognathus species; and was named Compsognathus corallestris. Later it was said to be no different from Compsognathus longipes.


The name Compsognathus has come from Greek word “kompsos” meaning ‘elegant’, ‘dainty’ or ‘refined’ and “gnathos” meaning ‘jaw.’

Adaptation and Behavior

Paleontologists suggested that they fed on small animals, including insects and non-dinosaur lizards. Unlike as it is depicted in movies, scientists did not find any suggestion of pack behavior. They were swift runners, and they relied on their agility and speed to catch its prey. Some researchers also hinted scavenging behavior. The paleoecological study suggests that these little carnivores could have been the top land predator in its environment.

Interesting Facts

  • Compsognathus is one of the very few dinosaurs whose diet is not hypotheses. Both specimens had small lizards preserved in their bellies.
  • The German specimen (BSP AS I 563) is on display at the Bayerische Staatsammlung für Paläontologie und Historische Geologie (i.e. Bavarian State Institute for Paleontology and Historical Geology) in Munich, Germany. The French specimen is at the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.
  • Compsognathus has appeared in several children’s books, toy lines, computer games, online games (e.g. Primal Carnage), documentary films and movies ( The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III).
  • In Lego Jurassic World, Compsognathus is known by its nickname Compy.
  • In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, this species was incorrectly identified as “Compsognathus triassicus” by one of the characters.

Published on December 28th 2015 by under Reptiles.
Article was last reviewed on 16th September 2019.

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