Temporal range: Late Triassic, 210 Ma
Holotype specimen (SMNS 12591)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Clade: Dinosauria
Order: Saurischia
Suborder: Theropoda
Family: Coelophysidae
Subfamily: Procompsognathinae
Nopcsa, 1923
Genus: Procompsognathus
Fraas, 1913
Species: P. triassicus
Binomial name
Procompsognathus triassicus
Fraas, 1913

Procompsognathus /ˌprkɒmpˈsɒɡnəθəs/ is an extinct genus of coelophysid theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 210 million years ago during the later part of the Triassic Period in what is now Germany. Procompsognathus was a small-sized, lightly built, ground-dwelling, bipedal carnivore, that could grow up to 1 m (3.3 ft) long.


The genus name Procompsognathus, means "before elegant jaw", and is derived from the name of another dinosaur, Compsognathus. A later (Jurassic) small predatory dinosaur, Compsognathus takes its name from the Greek word kompsos (κομψός) which can be rendered as "elegant", "refined" or "dainty" and the Greek word gnathos (γνάθος) which means "jaw". The prefix Pro (προ) implies "before" or "ancestor of", although this direct lineage was not supported by subsequent research. The specific name triassicus refers to the geologic time period to which this dinosaur belongs, the Triassic.[1]


Procompsognathus may have been about 1 metre (3.3 ft) long,[2] though Fraas in 1913 estimated a length of 75 cm (2.5 ft). In 2010 Gregory S. Paul gave an estimate of 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) for the weight with a length of 1.1 metres (3.6 ft).[3] A biped, Procompsognathus had long hind legs, short arms, large clawed hands, a long slender snout with many small teeth, and a stiff tail. The femur discovered for the type specimen of this genus measures 93mm and the tibia, 112mm. The tibia is approximately 20% longer than the femur in Procompsognathus, an adaptation which has been strongly correlated with the development of cursorial habits in dinosaurs, suggesting that they were good runners.[4]

Discovery and paleoecology

The fragmentary and poorly preserved skeleton of Procompsognathus was found in the Middle Stubensandstein member of the Löwenstein Formation at the Weiße Steinbruch, the quarry of Albert Burrer on the northern slopes of the Stromberg region near Pfaffenheim in Württemberg, Germany.[5] The discovery was made by Albert Burrer in the spring of 1909 in white sandstone and gray/blue marl sediments that were deposited during the Norian stage of the Triassic period, approximately 210 million years ago.

The holotype SMNS 12591, consisted of three blocks of sandstone: one showed a small, seven-centimetre-long, severely crushed skull with lower jaws. The second and third contained the partly articulated remains of a postcranial skeleton, including twenty-nine vertebrae of the neck, back and tail; ribs; elements of the shoulder girdle and a forelimb; an ilium; both pubes and the hindlimbs. It represents an adult individual.

Burrer sent the specimen to Professor Eberhard Fraas of the königliche Stuttgarter Naturalienkabinett. In a lecture on 9 October 1911, Fraas referred to it by the name "Hallopus celerrimus", considering it jumping form of dinosaur that was approximately 60 cm (2.0 ft) long, and was associated with the origin of birds.[6] Later, Fraas decided to use a different name in the official publication.[7] Fraas in 1913 named the genus Procompsognathus with as type species, Procompsognathus triassicus.[8] The type specimen is housed in the collection of the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.

In 1921, Friedrich von Huene referred two more specimens, both also found in the Burrer quarry, in 1908, to Procompsognathus: SMNS 12352, a partial skull and lower jaws from a larger individual than the holotype, and SMNS 12352a, an isolated left hand.[9]

Fauna and habitat

Procompsognathus lived in a relatively dry, inland environment and may have eaten insects, lizards and other small prey.[10] Contemporaries of Prompsognathus included the coelophysoids Halticosaurus and Dolichosuchus, as well as the Sauropodomorphs Plateosaurus gracilis and Efraasia minor. Weishampel, et al. (2004) noted that theropod tracks and fossils of an unnamed herrerasaur genus are known from the Lower Stubensandstein.[11]


Type specimen SMNS 12591

While it is undoubtedly a small, bipedal carnivore, the extremely poor preservation of the only known Procompsognathus fossil makes its exact identity difficult to determine. Fraas originally assigned it to the Dinosauria. In 1923 Franz Nopcsa coined a Procompsognathinae, and in 1929 von Huene created a Procompsognathidae, though these concepts are today rarely used. In 1932 von Huene saw it as a member of the non-dinosaurian Pseudosuchia.[12] It has since then usually been considered a theropod dinosaur, with some exceptions. In 1992 Paul Sereno and Rupert Wild stated that the holotype specimen consisted of fossils from two separate animals: the postcranial skeleton would be a theropod, likely a coelophysoid related to Segisaurus, but the skull and the von Huene specimens they referred to the basal crocodylomorph Saltoposuchus connectens.[13] However, in 1993 Sankar Chatterjee after further preparation refuted their assessment and regarded the skull as that of a theropod similar to Syntarsus, and demonstrated that it could not have been a crocodylomorph, as it lacks the landmark features of this group.[14][15] Sereno (1997) and Ezcurra and Novas (2007) conducted phylogenetic analysis that supported the placement of Procompsognathus in the taxon Coelophysidae.[16][17] This genus may be most closely related to Segisaurus halli.[18]

Referred specimens SMNS 12352 and SMNS 12352a

Much controversy has arisen however, about the association with the later material referred by von Huene. In 1982 John Ostrom claimed that SMNS 12352 and SMNS 12352a originated from a taxon different from the holotype. In 2006 and 2008 Fabien Knoll concluded that SMNS 12352 represented a crocodylomorph and SMNS 12352a a crocodylomorph or some other basal archosaur. The postcranial skeleton, for which she reserved the inventory number SMNS 12591, was a coelophysoid; and the skull, now indicated with the number SMNS 12591a, a perhaps more derived theropod, possibly a basal member of the Tetanurae.[19][20] In 2012 Knoll after a CAT-scan reaffirmed that SMNS 12352 was a crocodylomorph, but established it was different from Saltoposuchus.[21]

Oliver Rauhut and Axel Hungerbuhler (2000) noted features of the vertebrae which suggest that Procompsognathus may be a coelophysid or ceratosaur,[22] and Carrano et al. (2005), in their re-study of the related genus Segisaurus, found both Segisaurus and Procompsognathus to belong to the Coelophysidae within Dinosauria.[23] In 2004 David Allen considered Procompsognathus to be a primitive, non-dinosaurian ornithodiran.[24]

Distinguishing anatomical features

A diagnosis is a statement of the anatomical features of an organism (or group) that collectively distinguish it from all other organisms. Some, but not all, of the features in a diagnosis are also autapomorphies. An autapomorphy is a distinctive anatomical feature that is unique to a given organism or group. In 2000, Rauhut noted that its scapula is more slender than that of Coelophysis bauri.

In 1998 Chatterjee noted that the skull of Procompsognathus possesses a suite of theropod synapomorphies, which included:


Procompsognathus appears in the novel Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World by Michael Crichton. The species is sometimes referred to as "Compys" by the characters. While the author invents a venomous bite for Procompsognathus with soporific effects, there is no evidence to support venom in Procompsognathus.[25] In Crichton's original Jurassic Park novel, an injured John Hammond is attacked and killed by a pack of Procompsognathus, after being startled by a recording of a Tyrannosaurus roar, falling down a hill, breaking his ankle in the process. Unable to climb back up the hill due to his broken ankle, Hammond is killed and devoured by them.


  1. Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott (1980). A Greek-English Lexicon (Abridged Edition). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-910207-4.
  2. Holtz, Thomas R. Jr. (2011) Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, Winter 2010 Appendix.
  3. Paul, G.S., 2010, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, Princeton University Press p. 72
  4. Coombs, W. P., Jr. 1978. Theoretical aspects of cursorial adaptations in dinosaurs. The Quarterly Review of Biology 53:393–418.
  5. E. Fraas. 1907. Aetosaurus crassicauda n. sp. nebst Beobachtungen über das Becken der Aetosaurier [Aetosaurus crassicauda n. sp. together with observations on the pelvis of aetosaurs]. Mitteilungen aus dem Königlichen Naturalien-Kabinett zu Stuttgart 42:101-109
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  7. Pompeckj, J.F., 1915, "Zur Erinnerung an Eberhard Fraas und an sein Werk", Jahreshefte des Vereins für vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg 1924: XXXIII
  8. Fraas, E., 1913, "Die neuesten Dinosaurierfunde in der schwäbischen Trias", Naturwissenschaften 1(45): 1097-1100
  9. Von Huene, F., 1921, "Neue Pseudosuchier und Coelurosaurier aus dem württembergischen Keuper", Acta Zoologica 2: 329-403
  10. Frances Freedman & Tony Gibbons, 1997, Looking at-- Procompsognathus: a dinosaur from the Triassic period, Gareth Stevens Pub., 1 January 1997, pp. 24
  11. Baden-Wurrtemberg, Germany; 1. Lower Stubensandstein," in Weishampel, et al. (2004). Page 524.
  12. von Huene, F., 1932, Die fossile Reptil-Ordnung Saurischia, ihre Entwicklung und Geschichte. Monographien für Geologie und Paläontologie, 4, pp. 361
  13. Sereno, Paul C.; Wild, Rupert (December 15, 1992). "Procompsognathus: theropod, "thecodont" or both?". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 12 (4): 435–458. doi:10.1080/02724634.1992.10011473.
  14. Chatterjee, S., 1993, "Procompsognathus from the Triassic of Germany is not a crocodylomorph", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 13(3): 29A
  15. Chatterjee, S., 1998, "Reassessment of the Procompsognathus skull", p. 6 in: Wolberg, D.L., Gittis, K., Miller, S., Carey, L., and A. Raynor (eds.), Dinofest International. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
  16. P. C. Sereno. 1997. The origin and evolution of dinosaurs. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 25:435-489
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  18. Carrano, M.T., Hutchinson, J.R., & Sampson, S.D. 2005. New information on Segisaurus halli, a small theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of Arizona. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 25(4): 835-849.
  19. Knoll, F. & Schoch, R., 2006, "Does Procompsognathus have a head? Systematics of an enigmatic Triassic taxon", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26: 86A
  20. Knoll, F., 2008, "On the Procompsognathus postcranium (Late Triassic, Germany)", Geobios 41: 779-786
  21. Knoll, F. & Schoch, R., 2012, "CT scanning, rapid prototyping and re-examination of a partial skull of a basal crocodylomorph from the Late Triassic of Germany", Swiss Journal of Geosciences 105: 109-115
  22. Rauhut, O. and Hungerbuhler, A. (2000). "A review of European Triassic theropods." Gaia 15, 75-88
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