(meaning "bird robber") was a small theropod dinosaur
of the late Jurassic
of Western Laurasia
(the area that was to become North America). To date, it is known only from a single partial skull and skeleton, found near Como Bluff
, in 1900, and described by Henry Fairfield Osborn
in 1903. A hand was later attributed to Ornitholestes
, although it now appears to belong to Tanycolagreus
. The type
(and only known) species is O. hermanni
. The species name honors the American Museum of Natural History
preparator Adam Hermann.
was roughly 2 meters
) in length. The head of Ornitholestes
was relatively small. Nonetheless, the skull was more robust than that of many other small theropods, such as Compsognathus
, and this would have enabled Ornitholestes
to deliver a powerful bite.
Gregory S. Paul suggested the presence of a small horn on the snout of Ornitholestes, similar to that of Proceratosaurus. however this has recently been disproved by Carpenter et al., which indicated that the 'crest' was actually a broken nasal bone. Like most other theropods, Ornitholestes had a long tail, presumably used for balance.
was a coelurosaur
, similar in many ways to Compsognathus
, though somewhat larger.
The sharp teeth of Ornitholestes
clearly identify it as a carnivore
, but its exact diet has been a subject of debate in the paleontological community.
In his original 1903 description, Henry Fairfield Osborn suggested that Ornitholestes might have preyed on contemporary birds, based on the "rapid grasping power of agile and delicate prey" suggested by the structure of the hand. In 1917, however, Osborn reevaluated the hand and determined that it was unsuitable for this purpose.
More recently, Robert T. Bakker speculated that Ornitholestes probably hunted small mammals, noting that "the Como furballs were just the right size to fit the predator's jaws."
The animated film Fantasia
included, in the Rite of Spring
segment, what appears to be a large Ornitholestes
leaping at a small Archaeopteryx
An Ornitholestes with a snout crest appeared in the second episode of Walking with Dinosaurs as a predator of Diplodocus youngsters. An Ornitholestes also appears in
The Ballad of Big Al (a Walking with Dinosaurs special), where it tries to eat some of Al's siblings.