|Name Translation||Long-Legged Elegant Jaw|
The diet is known with certainty: the remains of small, agile lizards are preserved in the bellies of both specimens. It most likely lived alongside different species of stegosaurs, sauropods, and was also probably prey to the large carnivore Megalosaurus.
The Compsognathus was a small, bipedal, carnivourous dinosaur. Its streamlined body shape allowed it to run swiftly. Only two specimens have been found. Teeth discovered in Portugal may be further fossil remains of the genus. Compsognathus' pointed head was only three inches long. The tail was longer than the head, neck, and body put together. Many presentations still describe Compsognathus as a "chicken-sized" dinosaur because of the small size of the German specimen, which is now believed to be a juvenile form of the larger French specimen, and actually grew to be the size of a turkey.
Although not recognized as such at the time of its discovery, Compsognathus is the first dinosaur known from a reasonably complete skeleton. Until the 1980s and 1990s, Compsognathus was the smallest known dinosaur and the closest supposed relative of the early bird Archaeyopteryx. For nearly a century, Compsognathus was the only well-known small theropod. This led to comparisons with Archaeopteryx and to suggestions of a relationship with birds. The two theropods share many similarities in shape, size and proportions, so many in fact that a featherless skeleton of an Archaeopteryx was for many years misidentified as a Compsognathus. Many other dinosaurs, such as dromeosaurids are known to be related to birds.
Some relatives of Compsognathus have been preserved with the remains of simple feathers covering the body like fur, promoting some scientists to suggest that Compsognathus might have been feathered in a similar way. Consequently, many depictions of Compsognathus show it with a covering of downy proto-feathers. However, no feathers or feather-like covering have been preserved with Compsognathus fossils, in contrast to Archaeopteryx, which was found in the same sediments. In 2006, reported skin impressions preserved on the side of the tail starting at the 13th tail vertebra were found. The impressions showed small bumpy tubercles. Additional scales had earlier been reported in the abdominal region of the German Compsognathus, but this interpretation was later disproved.