Abstract

The discovery in recent years of additional skull material of the rare carnivorous dinosaur Stenonychosaurus inequalis prompts the first thorough description of this animal. This species, known only from the Upper Cretaceous strata of North America, is closely related to, but distinct from, the two described species of Saurornithoides from Mongolia. A derived characteristic, an inflated parasphenoid capsule, is found in both the saurornithoidids and ornithomimids, strongly suggesting shared ancestry. The middle ear cavity is well defined and is connected to at least two systems of sinuses in the skull bones. Periotic sinuses like these have not been described in theropods, and their presumed absence has been used as evidence against theropod ancestry of birds. Although these and other cranial characteristics of Stenonychosaurus do not prove that birds descended from theropods, they strengthen the claim that small carnivorous dinosaurs are more plausible bird ancestors than either pseudosuchians or crocodiles:

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