13a. Nopcsa and a Dinner for Compsognathus, 1903


In 1881 Othniel Marsh had a chance to examine the type specimen of Compsognathus, described by Wagner in 1861, and he noticed that within its ribs were the tiny bones of a small reptile. He thought it might have been a foetus, but it could also have been a young of the same species that had been swallowed. In other words, Compsognathus could have been cannibalistic.

Baron Nopcsa took a closer look. He rejected the possibility that the small reptile was an embryo--it was too large for that--and on examining the proportions of the bones, he concluded it was not a cannibalized Compsognathus either. Rather, it appeared to be a small lizard that was the very last course in this dinosaur banquet.


In addition to the first evidence of dinosaur eating habits, Nopcsa provided an illustration of the rib region of Compsognathus, showing the lizard bones in question (see above right). This illustration does not seem to have ever been reproduced, which is unfortunate, since is remarkably successful in its difficult task. It is interesting to compare Nopcsa's drawing with a detail of Wagner's original plate of Compsognathus (detail at left; for Wagner's complete plate, see item 13).


Nopcsa, Baron F. "Neues ueber Compsognathus," in: Neues Jahrbuch fur Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaeontologie (Stuttgart), vol. 16 (1903), pp. 476-494. This work is part of our History of Science Collection, but it was NOT included in the original exhibition.

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