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To: dinosaur@usc.edu
From: Ben Creisler (bh480@scn.org)

George Olshevsky has the derivation correct on this one:
Latin clunis "haunches, rump, sacrum" and -iculus "little"
a diminutive suffix.
Seeley's original description  "On a Sacrum, apparently indicating
a new type of Bird, Ornithodesmus cluniculus, Seeley, from the Wealden of
Brook" (Quar. Jour. of London Geological Society 1887(43: 206-211))
provides the apparent basis for the name--"the small number of vertebrae in
the sacrum" (6 instead of 10), which distinguished this supposed "bird"
from modern birds. The actual size (9.6 cent.) of the fossil sacrum
does not appear to be the point of the name as far as I can tell,
since it's not all that small for a bird. Thus the species name is
probably best read as "diminished sacrum"  rather than the literal
"little rump."

The generic name Ornithdesmus means something like "bird link".
The Greek terms desma, desmato- and desmos (Latin desmus)
"binding, band,  fetter" have done double-duty in paleontology
to indicate either anatomical features that are bound or fused, or,
especially in late 19th century and early 20th century names, to
indicate supposed intermediate forms that "bind" or "link" together
other forms. Examples of this other usage include Desmatochelys
(described by Williston as a form that "might well have been the
ancestor of all modern sea turtles"),  and Case's Desmatosuchus
(because its skull had features that supposedly linked it to
phytosaurs and some other group of reptiles Case could
not determine in his first description). Seeley used the name
Aristodesmus "superior link" for a pareiasaur supposedly related to

Seeley's summary of his description of Ornithodesmus states:
"I therefore venture to submit, on the evidence of the resemblances
and considerations which have been discussed, that Ornithodesmus
is probably a bird; but it differs from existing birds, so as to suggest
that it is a link towards lower forms. It cannot be placed in any
existing division of the class, but approximates towards Dinosaurs
in a way of which no bird has previously given evidence."