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Re: Skeletons in Dinosaur Closets



>How conclusive/persuasive is the evidence that Coelophysis practiced
>cannibalism? I tend to think of all dinosaurs as noble creatures and
>would prefer the image of a mother dinosaur sacrificing herself to save
>her children rather than one so self-centered that she would devour her
>own offspring. Are there many vertebrate species--extant or extinct--that
>devour their own kind and/or offspring?

The Coelophysis specimens at Ghost Ranch are almost 100% definite evidence
of cannibalism.  Among the dozens (actually, probablly hundreds) of
specimens at this site, several of the individuals contain the
disarticulated bones of juvenile Coelophysis in the body cavity.  These
bones are from individuals too large to be embryos (they would destroy the
mother on the way out), so the evidence is pretty good that they came in
through the throat.

Nobility is a human concept which doesn't apply well to the natural world.
I like to think of the felids are as "noble" as any animal out there, but
when a new male felid (lion or Felis domesticus or other social cat) wins
over a pride from the previous alpha male, the new leader tends to kill the
young offspring of the previous alpha.

Many animals practice cannibalism during times of stress (a next generation
is nice, but when times are tough, meat is meat).

                                
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.                                   
tholtz@geochange.er.usgs.gov
Vertebrate Paleontologist in Exile                  Phone:      703-648-5280
U.S. Geological Survey                                FAX:      703-648-5420
Branch of Paleontology & Stratigraphy
MS 970 National Center
Reston, VA  22092
U.S.A.