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The Family of Theropod Dinosaurs

Updated on December 27, 2012

The Feets and Feasts of the Beasts

All the carnivorous dinosaurs ranging from the fierce Tyrannosaurus rex to the little, and fast sprinting Compsognathus, belonged to the group of theropods (theropoda).

One great example would be the Tyrannosaurus rex. This monster was one of the largest and fiercest dinosaur that ever lived on Earth, and no other living thing can compare its mightiness to this beast. The Tyrannosaurus rex could tear the flesh off its prey with a single bite. Compsognathus was a little, chicken lookalike dinosaur, and had the ability to run very fast and ate insects and lizards for its survival.

The Tyrannosaurus rex and Compsognathus (despite the huge difference in their size) had two significant things in common: they both were carnivores and ate meat and also walked on two legs. Basically, the therapods are a large group of meat-eaters of different sizes.

All theropods had two long and strong back legs for walking, and long and strong muscular tails to maintain their balance. The name therapod means 'beast foot'. Most of the dinosaurs in the group had three forward pointing toes with extremely sharp claws and there was also a fourth clawed which pointed backwards. The therapods had short arms with sharp claws too. Their long jaws were lined with knife lookalike teeth to rip up their prey. Therapods lived throughout the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous period, the Age of the Dinosaurs era.

The first ever therapods to appear on Earth, such as the Coelophysis, were usually small and light weighted. They had the ability to run very rapidly on their long and strong back legs and could chase insects and lizards. There is one particular theropod called the Ornithomimus, and this is the one different from the other theropods because it was toothless. But it did have a horny beak and ate fruits like nuts and berries as well as lizards.

The large theropods were very heavy, powerful and fearless. Their only weakness was that they couldn't run fast for a long period because of their huge weight. But they were indeed ferocious and fierce hunters and could kill slow moving dinosaurs with their sharp claws and teeth.

Another interesting dinosaur was the Deinonychus which had a stiffened tail to keep its balance. This dinosaur was discovered in 1964, and it was placed in the theropod category by experts because it ran on its two legs and was a carnivore. However, it is somewhat different from most of the other theropods. The reason why is because it was small, it had a very large head and long arms which looked quite unusual. The feet of the Deinonycus were also very different because they had only two forward-pointing toes rather than three like the other theropods. Its second toe was a big, upright, curved claw, and scientists believe it used this claw to kick its prey and attack them in that manner.

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