STL Science Center

STL Science Center

04 January 2014

Just a Typical Dinosaur

©Nobu Tamura
Triassic dinosaurs like Coelophysis sometimes seem to be very stereotypically illustrated. The reason for that, of course, is because a lot of the generic traits of dinosaurs have their origin in the earliest Triassic dinosaurs like Coelophysis. That said, they are fascinating little creatures, Coelophysis, because they are the basic model for so many more derived theropod dinosaurs that evolved later in the history of dinosaurs. The elongate skull of Coelophysis and the overall gracile form are distinctive traits of Coelophysis that we can easily see in most illustrations of the animal. In some illustrations, in fact, Coelophysis appears very snake-like. Thankfully, we also have other illustrations like this one that are more robust in form.

©John Conway
Not too long ago, within the past decade  or so, dinosaur feathering has become much more universal than it once was. There is not necessarily a problem with this trend, but like all trends in art, they come and go and, with scientific illustration, are usually based on the majority consensus. That consensus right now has a lot more feathering visible on most known dinosaur genera. Illustrations like this one, lacking the feathering on the majority of the head, with some quill-like structures on the neck, are quickly becoming less and less normal and are even becoming unfavorable in many circles. The gaunt appearance of the head of this Coelophysis, however, follows the skull closely and accentuates the bumps and ridges of the bones exceptionally well. Despite this style of interpretation losing some favor in the scientific community it is still a valid interpretation and takes into account the anatomy of the skull particularly well.

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