2000 AD’s bizarre fin-handed Compsognathus

October 2, 2012

Here’s a blast from the past:

This alleged Compsognathus is a card from the “Flesh” card-game that was printed across several progs (issues) of the comic 2000 AD in 1977. This one is from the back cover of Prog 9. (Click through the picture for the whole back cover.)

“Flesh” was one of the half-dozen or so stories that appeared each week in those early months of 2000 AD. It was the story of how cowboys of the future travelled back to the Mesozoic to harvest dinosaurs for their meat, and was the subject of Jeff Liston’s chapter in the recentish Geological Society volume on the history of dinosaur research.

Compsognathus made another pop-culture appearance in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, of course, as the cute little “compys” that tear one of the nastier human characters to pieces.

Why does the 2000 AD Compsognathus have actinopterygian-like fins for arms? According to Wikipedia, The idea comes from Bidar et al. (1972), who supposed that the French specimen had webbed forefeet, which would look like flippers in life — an idea illustrated as part of a larger scene by Halstead (1975):

John Ostrom’s (1978) Compsognathus monograph showed that this was nonsense, but of course that was too late for the early issues of 2000 AD.


Bidar, A.; Demay L., Thomel G. 1972. Compsognathus corallestris, une nouvelle espèce de dinosaurien théropode du Portlandien de Canjuers (Sud-Est de la France). Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Nice 1:9–40.

Halstead L.B. 1975. The evolution and ecology of the dinosaurs. Eurobook. ISBN 0-85654-018-8.

Ostrom, J.H. 1978. The osteology of Compsognathus longipesZitteliana 4:73–118.

Update 1 (the next day)

In a comment below, Andrea Cau points to this post on his blog Theropoda (“the most inclusive blog containing Allosaurus fragilis but not Saltasaurus loricatus) which contains two more flippered-Compsognathus illustrations. Here they are: one from David Lambert’s book Dinosaur! …

… and one from David Norman’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs.

Update 2 (two days later)

Silly me, I should of course have posted Bidar et al.’s (1972) own life restoration of Compsognathus. It’s not great art, but it’s … actually, I’m not sure what it is. But anyway, here it is:

Attempted reconstruction of attitudes of Compsognathus corallestris nov. sp. A, erect stance (walking); B, sitting (inspired by O. Abel); C, Swimming; D, Diving. (Bidar et al. 1972:figure 21)


18 Responses to “2000 AD’s bizarre fin-handed Compsognathus

  1. Marc Vincent Says:

    It’s from a book by Halstead, but the illustration’s actually by Giovanni Caselli. And now, to plug LITC. http://chasmosaurs.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/vintage-dinosaur-art-evolution-and.html

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    John Sibbick also illustrated a fin-handed paddling compy for David Norman’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, BUT I am pretty sure that Norman was clear that the idea was bunk.

  3. I knew you couldn’t resist the obvious superiority of theropods forever. TA-POW, here we come!

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    TA-POW!? Never. But you can chalk this one up to TSM-POD (that’s Theropod Stupid Manus Picture Of the Decade).

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    John Sibbick also illustrated a fin-handed paddling compy for David Norman’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, BUT I am pretty sure that Norman was clear that the idea was bunk.

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

  6. Andrea Cau Says:

    You can see two other versions (including Sibbick’s one) in the post I dedicated to Compso-pterygius a few years ago: http://theropoda.blogspot.it/2010/11/flipper.html

  7. Mark Robinson Says:

    IIRC the mention of C. corallestris‘ possible finnedness in Norman’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs was just that – a mention, with him ending by saying that more recent studies indicated that it prob wasn’t the case.

    It was a black and white pic on one of the “text” pages rather than one of the full-colour double-page spread di(n)oramas.

    +1 for T&A POW!

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Andrea. I’ll update the post to point to yours. We have quite the little gallery now!

    [A little later: now done, and I nicked your images, too.]

  9. It should be noted that not only did Bidar make the argument, it is based on features of the mainslab which both he and Ostrom examined, and which Bidar illustrated in a reconstruction. The “fish-handed” idea is a development from Bidar’s original thesis, which was that the hand was embedded in a mosasaur-like “mitt” or “flipper.” The fish-fin is drawn more specifically from the idea of the structures discussed by Bidar as “rays,” when in fact Bidar assumed they were non-bony (I think; my copy of the paper was a hard one, and I no longer possess it).

  10. Darren Naish Says:

    The ‘flippered Compsognathus‘ paper is Bidar, Demay and Thomel (not just Bidar), and it does indeed include no less than four life reconstructions of flippered compsognathids (in addition to a skeletal reconstruction as well). There are several additional flippered compsognathid reconstructions elsewhere in the popular literature. Following Caselli’s lead, they are often greenish or bluish.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    I should of course have posted Bidar et al.’s own attempted life restoration. Post now updated to include this!

  12. Brad McFeeters Says:

    The Bidar reconstruction and most that copy it look like the elbow is bending the wrong way (or the manus attaches directly to the humerus). Why would they draw it like that? At least Sibbick’s looks slightly more like a theropod forelimb.

  13. […] the recent Compsognathus, this is a card from the “Flesh” card-game that was printed across several progs (issues) of […]

  14. Matthew Speights Says:

    Minor correction, but the “compys” of Crichton’s The Lost World were Procompsognathus triassicus. Apparently they hybridized with piranhas like those Anurognathus from Primeval.

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    Very interesting — tuns out Matthew is right that in Crichton’s novels, the “compys” are Procompsognathus; but in the film, as noted above, they have been promoted to Compsognathus. Never noticed that before.

  16. matthew2png Says:

    That I recall, the paleontologist in the film, “Robert Burke” (the not-so-subtle Robert Bakker who gets eaten by the T. rex), calls them Procompsognathus triassicus in one of the scenes in the film (same scene where the jerk character zaps the “compy” with a stun gun, therefore guaranteeing his karmic death at their hands, er teeth).

  17. […] That title instead temporarily went to Compsognathus corallestris. […]

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