Coelurus would eat anything it came across – even the rotting carcasses of animals killed by other dinosaurs.
It was a nippy little dinosaur, with a small head about the same size as a man’s hand. Its teeth were razor-sharp and curved. Once they had sunk into another animal, it was almost impossible for the prey to wrench itself free. Coelurus also used its powerful teeth and jaws to rip flesh from the rotting carcasses of prey killed by other carnivores.
For a long time Coelurus was thought to have been another specimen of Ornitholestes. However, studies by John Ostrom in 1976 and Jacques Gauthier in 1986 show that the hands are like those of the maniraptorans. In contrast, the neck is nothing like that of a maniraptoran and it is unclear whether this animal fits into the dinosaur family tree.
Name: Coelurus, meaning ‘hollow tail’
Size: 2m long
Food: meat, usually dead dinosaurs it found
Lived: about 140 million years ago during the Late Jurassic Period in North America
This animal is another of the small, hunting dinosaurs. It has a strangely down-curved jaw with sharp, curved teeth. The hands are long but not particularly strong, with a wrist joint similar to that of a bird, and very flexible fingers. The ‘hollow tail’ part of the name refers to the deep excavations in the vertebrae of the back and tail, something like those found as a weight-saving measure in sauropods.
Coelurus had very light bones and a stiff tail with hollow bones in it. Its front limbs were short and slim. Its hands were small and weak, with three curved claws. Coelurus had similar, slightly blunter claws on the toes of both back limbs. It used its hands to snatch at its prey and to keep it in its grasp, while ripping it to death with the claws on its feet.
Specimens of Coelurus found in four locations in the same quarry may have come from the one individual. That individual may not even have been fully grown, and so the size estimate here may be on the small side.