name = Caenagnathids
fossil_range = Late Cretaceous

image_width = 200px
image_caption = Skull of "Chirostenotes".
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Sauropsida
superordo = Dinosauria
ordo = Saurischia
infraordo = Oviraptorosauria
superfamilia = Caenagnathoidea
familia = Caenagnathidae
familia_authority = Sternberg, 1940
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision =
* "Caenagnathasia"
* "Chirostenotes" (type)
* "Elmisaurus"
* "Hagryphus"
synonyms =
* Elmisauridae Osmólska, 1981

Caenagnathidae ("recent jaws," as derived from Greek "kainos" and "gnathos") is a family of bird-like maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs within the clade Oviraptorosauria, first coined as an order of advanced flightless birds by Charles Hazelius Sternberg in 1940.Sternberg, R.M. (1940). "A toothless bird from the Cretaceous of Alberta." "Journal of Paleontology", 14(1): 81-85.] While more advanced than earlier oviraptorosaurs like "Caudipteryx", caenagnathids were fairly primitive compared with their close relatives the oviraptorids, though this by no means reduces the distinct variation and unique nature of the group. Whereas oviraptorids had highly shortened snouts, caenagnathid jaws were long and shallow with an elongated dentary and extended symphysis. Indeed, the jaw of a caenagnathid is its most distinctive feature, historically, whose surface and internal structure is distinct from that of other dinosaurs, including oviraptorids.Clark, J. M., M. A. Norell, and T. Rowe. 2002. Cranial Anatomy of "Citipati osmolskae" (Theropoda, Oviraptorosauria), and a Reinterpretation of the Holotype of "Oviraptor philoceratops". "American Museum Novitates" 3364: 1-24] Caenagnathids are best known for their cranial anatomy, but the earliest forms are known from their postcrania alone, and include such novel features as a fused ankle (as also seen in similar and possibly related "Avimimus portentosus"), an extremely short tail, possibly with a pygostyle as in "Nomingia gobiensis"Barsbold R., Osmolska, H., Watabe M., Currie, P. J., and Tsogtbaatar K. 2000. New oviraptorosaur (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from Mongolia: The first dinosaur with a pygostyle. "Acta Palaeontologica Polonica" 45 (2): 97-106).] , and with exceptionally slender and long legs, giving them a gracile, long-legged appearance that may have resembled some of the smaller ratite birds, such as the emu.


The name "Caenagnathus" (and hence Caenagnathidae) means "recent jaws"--when first discovered, it was thought that caenagnathids were close relatives of paleognath birds (such as the ostrich) based on features of the lower jaw. Since it would be unusual to find a recent group of birds in the Cretaceous, the name "recent jaws" was applied. Most paleontologists, however, now think that the birdlike features of the jaw were acquired convergently with modern birds.Cracraft, J. (1971). "Caenagnathiformes: Cretaceous birds convergent in jaw mechanism to dicynodont reptiles." "Journal of Paleontology", 45: 805-809.] Barsbold, R., Maryańska, T., and Osmólska, H. (1990). "Oviraptorosauria." pg. 249-258 "in" Weishampel, Dodson, and Osmolska (eds.) "The Dinosauria", University of California Press (Berkeley).]


The family Caenagnathidae, together with its sister group the Oviraptoridae, comprises the superfamily Caenagnathoidea. In phylogenetic taxonomy, the clade Caenagnathidae is defined as the most inclusive group containing "Chirostenotes pergracilis" but not "Oviraptor philoceratops". While in the past twenty years, only about two to six species were commonly recognized as belonging to the Caenagnathidae, currently that number may be much greater, with new discoveries and theories about older species that may inflate this number to up to ten. Much of this historical difference centers on the first caenagnathid to be described, "Chirostenotes pergracilis". Due to the poor preservation of most caenagnathid remains and resulting misidentifications, different bones and different specimens of "Chirostenotes" have historically been assigned to a number of different species. For example, the feet of one species, named "Macrophalangia canadensis", were known from the same region from which "Chirostenotes pergracilis" was recovered, but the discovery of a new specimen with both hands and feet preservedCurrie, P.J. and Russell, D.A. 1988. Osteology and relationships of "Chirostenotes pergracilis" (Saurischia, Theropoda) from the Judith River Oldman Formation of Alberta. "Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences -- Revue de Canadienne des Sciences de la Terre" 25 (3): 972-986.] provided the support to combine them, while the later discovery of a partial skull with hands and feet suggested that "Chirostenotes" and "Caenagnathus" were the same animal. While "Caenagnathus collinsi" is today considered to be a junior synonym of "Chirostenotes pergracilis" by most researchers, it was the first for which a family was named, so while the genus name "Caenagnathus" is no longer in use, the family name Caenagnathidae remains valid due to its inclusion of "Caenagnathus".


Today, Caenagnathidae usually contains six species in three genera. However, a few paleontologists consider "Elmisaurus elegans" to be a junior synonym of "Chirostenotes sternbergi", as they both occur in the same North American locality, far from the Asian species "Elmisaurus rarus" . The genus "Caenagnathasia martinsoni" was originally placed in this family, but it is probably more primitive, lying outside both Caenagnathidae and Oviraptoridae within the superfamily Caenagnathoidea.Currie, P.J., Godfrey, S.J., and Nessov, L.A. (1994). "New caenagnathid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) specimens from the Upper Cretaceous of North America and Asia." "Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences -- Revue de Canadienne des Sciences de la Terre", 30: 2255-2272.] Additionally, Maryańska, Osmólska, and Wołsan considered the oviraptorosaur with a pygostyle, "Nomingia gobiensis", a member of this family.Maryańska, T., Osmólska, H., and Wołsan, M. (2002). "Avialan status for Oviraptorosauria." "Acta Palaeontologica Polonica", 47 (1): 97-116.]

Caenagnathidae includes -
*"Chirostenotes pergracilis", the first known caenagnathid, described initially from two hands and a partial lower arm. Many subsequently named species have been referred to this species, including a single foot named "Macrophalangia canadensis"Sternberg, C. H. 1932. Two new theropod dinosaurs from the Belly River Formation of Alberta. "The Canadian Field-Naturalist" 46: 99-105.] , adding to the known fossil material.Sues, H.-D. (1997). "On "Chirostenotes", a Late Cretaceous oviraptorosaur (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from western North America." "Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology", 17(4): 698-716.]
*"Chirostenotes sternbergi", a more gracile caenagnathid. Some consider "Elmisaurus elegans" to be the same animal, as both are smaller and more slender than "Chirostenotes pergracilis". It is also possible that this species represents a different gender of the larger "C. pergracilis" specimens.Cracraft, J. 1971. Caenagnathiformes: Cretaceous birds convergent in jaw mechanism to dicynodont reptiles. "Journal of Paleontology" 45: 805-809.]
*"Chirostenotes sp.", a possible new species, has been identified from part of a lower jaw found in Montana, but not named.
*"Elmisaurus rarus", the only known Asian caenagnathid (excluding "Caenagnathasia martinsoni"), is known only from elements of the foot.Osmolska, H. 1981. Coosified tarsometatarsi in theropod dinosaurs and their bearing on the problem of bird origins. "Paleontologia Polonica" 42: 79-95.]
*"Elmisaurus elegans", a smaller Canadian species originally described as a species of "Ornithomimus"Parks, W. A. 1933. New species of dinosaurs and turtles from the Belly River Formation of Alberta. "University of Toronto Studies (Geological Series)" 34: 1-33.] . It may be the same species as "Chirostenotes sternbergi"Currie, P.J. 1989. The first records of "Elmisaurus" (Saurischia, Theropoda) from North America. "Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences -- Revue de Canadienne des Sciences de la Terre" 26: 1319-1324.] , as noted above.
*The "Triebold caenagnathid", an infamous possible new species or genus collected by Triebold Paleontology of South Dakota. Known from two excellently preserved partial specimens, this species, having been obtained by private collectors, was put up for sale, making its scientific future unknown until it was acquired by the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. An apparently giant species with a well preserved skull and evidence of an oviraptorid-like crest, it is currently awaiting a published description.
*"Hagryphus giganteus", discovered most recently, is a fairly large and over-assuming yet seldom mentioned species from Upper Cretaceous beds in Colorado, USA (and is roughly the same age as "Chirostenotes pergacilis".Zanno, L. E. & Sampson, S. D. 2005. A new oviraptorosaur (Theropoda, Maniraptora) from the Late Cretaceous (Campanian) of Utah. "Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology" 25(4): 897-904.]


External links

* [ Overview of Caenagnathidae by Jaime Headden.]
* [ Photo of the Triebold caenagnathid, on display at the Carnegie Museum] .
* [ Skeletal reconstruction of the Triebold specimens.]

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