Twig the Compsognathus gets the spotlight today, and he’s excited about his new look.
Compsognathus lived in Late Jurassic Europe. Only two fossil specimens are known for sure, a juvenile from the Solnhofen of Germany, and a turkey-sized adult in France. Since the chicken-sized juvenile from Germany was the first found and the only one known for many years, some books still say that Compsognathus was the “size of a chicken.” Twig would like to point out that he might be small, but he’s not that small.
The Solnholfen archipelago was tropical at the time, but very dry, and may have been rather similar to what the Galapagos islands are like today. Low, scrubby, desert-hardy plants, dominated by sea-faring flyers. The pterosaurs may have congregated on the islands in the millions just like colonies of seabirds do today, while creatures like Compsognathus may have arrived on floating debris carried by storms and learned to make the best of things. So who else lives in Twig’s neighborhood?
Ron the Rhamphorhynchus is bigger than Twig, though he usually looks about the same size when his wings are folded up. Tango the Archaeopteryx is about half his size, and does not like to play tag. Terry the Pterodactylus is about the same size as Tango. Other neighbors not yet featured in the pet shop include…
- Gnathosaurus: small pterosaur with flattened needle teeth that look like a spoonbill bird
- Scaphognathus: Rhamphorhynchus cousin with a flashy crest and no flag on its tail
- Ardeadactylus: A large pterosaur built like a heron, but related to Pterodactylus
- Cycnorhamphus: an even larger pterosaur with an unusual, curved bill that looks a bit like a flamingo, only pointing up instead of down.
- Anurognathus: a tiny, flat-faced pterosaur that looks very much like a bat.
There are others of course, but this is the short list, and doesn’t include the huge diversity of fish, sharks, crocodilians, lizards, tuatara relatives, and marine reptiles that crawled across the land or cruised the shallow sea. The Solnhofen is every bit as diverse and wacky as the Galapagos islands today, and are definitely worth exploring. (On my to-do list after I finish the Morrison Formation)
One question you may ask is about the fluff. Do we really know if Compsognathus had feathers?
Short answer? We don’t, and we need more fossils.
Long answer? A few relatives of Compsognathus are definitely preserved with fluff, a little like the downy fuzz we might see in ducklings. I say ducklings because chicken chicks really have to be careful not to get wet or they get sick, while ducklings are pretty hardy and the fuzz is generally nicely insulating. But perhaps this is more about the weakness of tiny chicks in general, and not so much to do with the nature of their fuzz. I’m no expert. I could be completely wrong in comparing dino fuzz to chick fluff.
On the other hand, we also have other relatives of Compsognathus (and possibly skin imprints on Compsognathus itself, though I’m not sure on that) that appear to have scaly skin. Some have said that scaly skin doesn’t rule out feathers, especially since these impressions come from areas like the legs, underside of the tail, or belly. Others claim to see faint impressions of feathers on some of these fossils as well as the scales (visible under UV light), so it’s possible that what appears scaly is an artifact of decomposition. Bottom line, there is nothing absolutely certain in a lot of these smaller dinosaurs, and so artists are free to experiment with appearance.
Many of us like fluffy pets, so I’ve chosen a more superficially bird-like appearance.
Of course now that Twig has an official update he has been added to Redbubble and is available for adoption! I am seriously considering getting a large floor pillow so that I can have a life-size Compsognathus in my house. 😀
If you want to adopt Twig, just click on his picture below. That’ll take you to Redbubble, where you can choose a life-size Compsognathus or a more pocket-size one on something else that suits what you might need.
See you November 1st for the next Critter of the Month!
I hope you don’t mind getting wet, because this swimming critter loves to splash!