The scientific tourist #62 — Coelophysis

Another nice set of fossilized bones from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico:


Coelophysis was an early dinosaur, living in what is now North America some 215 million years ago, and is the oldest dinosaur known from multiple complete skeletons. It was a slim, lightly built creature — about 3 meters long, and about 1 meter tall at the hips. But this light frame could pack a punch — Coelophysis had a mouth full of sharp teeth, and he was built for speed.

Coelophysis was a theropod — two legs, three digits on each limb, carnivorous. And as you may have guessed from the basic layout of the dinosaur’s skeleton, it was a distant relative of modern birds. In fact, the name comes from the Greek words for “hollow form,” after its hollow limb bones (as are seen in birds). Coelophysis also had a wishbone (it was the first dinosaur to have one), just as do birds.

The block of fossils on display here come from the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, not far from where the first fossil Coelophysis was found, and from the same deposit in which thousands of individuals were found in 1947. Due to the strong ties of these creatures to what is now New Mexico (they’ve never been found anywhere else), Coelophysis has been named the New Mexico state fossil.

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