Ornitholestes - Classification and Systematics

Classification and Systematics

The infraorder Coelurosauria, coined in 1914 by Friedrich von Huene, was traditionally a taxonomic wastebasket into which all small theropods were placed. Ornitholestes, due to its small size, was therefore generally classified as a coelurosaur. In 1986, Jacques Gauthier redefined this and several other paleontological terms in a more rigorous fashion, based on cladistic methods. Tetanurae was defined as modern birds and all theropods more closely related to modern birds than to ceratosaurs, while Coelurosauria now comprised all members of Tetanurae more closely related to modern birds than to carnosaurs. In 1988, Gregory S. Paul suggested that Ornitholestes was very similar in skull structure to Proceratosaurus, a Middle Jurassic theropod from England. He placed these two genera together in Ornitholestinae—a new subfamily under Allosauridae—and speculated that they were more closely related to the much larger Allosaurus than to other small theropods. However, the classification of Ornitholestes and Proceratosaurus as allosaur relatives proved untenable (the latter has since proved to be a tyrannosauroid), and Paul eventually abandoned it. All published cladistic analyses have shown Ornitholestes to be a coelurosaur as defined by Gauthier, and likely a primitive member of the advanced group Maniraptora, though there is still disagreement regarding its exact position within this group.

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