Coelophysis: Dinosaur of the Old West

By Kristy McCaffrey

When you think of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex comes to mind but there were many types of theropod that came before it. Coelophysis was a small bipedal carnivore and was one of the earliest dinosaurs to walk the earth. It was also an ancestor of T. rex.

Coelophysis, a small dinosaur from the Triassic Period (considered to be the Dawn of the Dinosaurs)

Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era (sometimes called “the Age of Reptiles”), which spanned from 252 million years ago to 66 million years ago. It was comprised of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. Early dinosaurs (such as Coelophysis) emerged in the Triassic, but they were quite small. Giants such as T. rex and enormous sauropods such as Brontosaurus and Diplodocus lived during the late Jurassic and Cretaceous.

Coelophysis fossil at the Museum of Northern Arizona

In 1889, Edward Drinker Cope was the first to identify and name Coelophysis. The first remains were found by David Baldwin, an amateur fossil collector working for Cope, in 1881 in northwestern New Mexico. These first finds were too poorly preserved to give a full picture of the dinosaur, but in 1947 a massive graveyard of fossils was found in New Mexico containing many well-preserved and fully articulated specimens.

It is theorized that Coelophysis may have run in packs, although no direct evidence supports this

There is wide consensus today that birds descended from theropods such as Coelophysis. (T. rex has more in common with the modern-day chicken than to a crocodile.) Both birds and theropods shared wishbones, likely incubated their eggs, had hollow bones, and were covered in feathers.

In my upcoming book, THE CANARY, Dr. Jack Brenner and Sarah Ryan are on the hunt in the Arizona desert for Jack’s father, the esteemed paleontologist Dr. Allan Brenner. And Allan is on the hunt for Coelophysis.

Coming July 25, 2023. Pre-order a copy today!!

Read an excerpt

Jack and Sarah have entered a marriage of convenience for various reasons, one being her difficult relationship with one of her professors, Dr. Everett Pierce. Isaac is a Comanche friend and paleontology assistant of Jack’s father.

“And why are you here, Dr. Pierce?” Sarah asked, sitting up straight and looking him in the eye. Either she was a very good actress, or her animosity was real. Jack at least had to concede that it was likely the latter. 

“I’ve been contracted to explore the area,” he said.

“By whom?” Isaac cut in.

“Roderick Melton.”

That Pierce was still tied to Melton shouldn’t have surprised Jack, but it did, despite that it was no secret Pierce’s father pulled strings wherever he could for his son. It had been a topic of gossip in paleontological circles that the elder Pierce had been trying to establish business relations with Roderick Melton. And then there’d been the business with Betsy. Unbeknownst to Jack, he’d been in a romantic triangle with her and Pierce, and while he blamed Pierce wholeheartedly for being an unethical ass, Betsy had decisively left Jack despite that he’d protected her from possibly going to jail, which probably wouldn’t have happened considering Roderick’s wealth.

But Pierce had never won Betsy’s hand—she had later married someone else—and it had been the one bright spot in an otherwise painful period of Jack’s life.

He kept his reaction to himself by raising his glass—the whiskey this time and not the beer—and nursing a long drink.

Isaac folded his hands together on the table. “Selling out, are you?”

“Don’t give me the holier than thou speech,” Pierce replied with a smirk. “We’re all in it for the money. Private collectors have as much right to house collections as museums.”

“At least we know now for certain,” Isaac said.

Pierce raised a brow. “What’s that?”

“You have zero ethics.”

Unethical ass echoed in Jack’s head.

“Ethics don’t pay the bills,” Everett said. “And what about Allan Brenner? Who’s paying his bills?”

Jack and Isaac didn’t respond, so Sarah filled the empty space. “Yale University,” she said. “And Helen Parks, I would assume.”

“Yes, of course,” Pierce said conversationally, leaning forward. “And she’s the one who hired you, right Sarah?”

Jack didn’t like the proprietary tone in Pierce’s voice as he said her first name.

“You know,” Pierce continued. “If you’d wanted a dig, you could have come to me. I could’ve introduced you to Melton.”

“Like you did with Jane?” she countered.

Pierce’s eyes narrowed and he swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bobbing noticeably. “Jane quit school, a reminder that women really don’t have what it takes to be out here.”

“I’ve heard that could be said of some men, as well.” Sarah offered a polite smile while sipping her drink.

Jack tried not to laugh, but his lips twitched anyway.

Pierce rose to his feet. “I look forward to seeing you in class in the fall, Mrs. Brenner. I’m sure you’ll have much to share with the other students after your summer here.” He adjusted his jacket. “Gentlemen. I expect I’ll see you out there.”

“Not if I can help it,” Jack said plainly.

Pierce snatched the bottle of whiskey, clearly unwilling to leave the remainder with them. “Allan Brenner thinks he’s some sort of god out here. He’s not. 

“I get it now,” Isaac said with a knowing nod. “You’re here to outshine him. How exactly do you propose to do that?”

“He’s pinned so many of his theories on Coelophysis,” Pierce said, “but he’s yet to find a full skeleton. And when I find one, I’ll debunk every hypothesis he’s put forward.”

Learn more about Kristy's books at

Leave a Comment: