Coelophysis, meaning “˜hollow form’ (in reference to its hollow bones), is a genus of dinosaur from the Late Triassic Period (Carnian and Norian stages). It lived in what is now the southwestern United States. Similar specimens have been found worldwide in Late Triassic and Early Jurassic formations. Coelophysis was first named by Edward Drinker Cope in 1889. The remains were first found by amateur fossil collector, David Baldwin in 1881. The type species, C. bauri, was named in honor of Baur, a fossil collector who supplied Cope.
In 1947, a large bone bed was discovered in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico which contained a number of Coelophysis remains. This “˜graveyard’ was near the original dig site. This many fossils being found in one area indicates the possibility of a flash flood, which would have swept away vast numbers of Coelophysis and buried them quickly in mud and debris. Other evidence of petrified trees backs up this theory. Since the Ghost Ranch discoveries, more and more skeletons have been found in Arizona, New Mexico and possibly Utah, both in juvenile and adult forms. Discovered theropod footprints from the Connecticut Valley, are also thought to be made by Coelophysis.
Coelophysis was a lightly built theropod that was close to 10 feet in length and stood more than 3.5 feet tall at the hips. It had hollow limb bones, hence the name “˜hollow form’. It was very slim and was possibly a swift runner. Despite being an early theropod, it had advanced greatly from other earlier creatures. It had four digits on each hand, although only three were functional. The pelvis and hind limbs were varied slightly compared to most theropod body structures. Each hind limb had a three-toed foot. It had large eyes and very good eyesight. The neck and head and tail were long. The tail acted as a sophisticated “rudder” when the dinosaur was moving at high speeds. The teeth of the jaw were very sharp, curved, and jagged. It most likely was a meat eater, eating mostly small lizard-like animals. It may have been a pack hunter, giving it the ability to tackle larger prey.
Coelophysis was the second dinosaur to make it into outer space, the first was Maiasaura. The Coelophysis skull from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor mission STS-89 on the January 22, 1998 launch. It made an appearance at the Mir space station as well before being returned to Earth.
Coelophysis is also the state fossil of New Mexico.