Secondly this was the 3rd dinosaur discovered in North America. The specimen was described and named by 19th century palaeontologist Edward Cope. Cope called his find Laelaps aquilinguis (the exact meaning of which I am uncertain due to the conflicting interpretations). The specimen consisted of the leg, arm, a few tail vertebra, some teeth and parts of the skull. Prior to the discovery of Laelaps a bone fragment belonging to the plant eater Hadrosaurus was found very close by. Cope interpreted this as evidence of the Laelaps hunting Hadrosaurus, however I deem this as inconclusive due to Cope's famously vivid imagination and tendency to jump to conclusions. The association is probably a result of coincidence rather than evidence of feeding behaviour in Laelaps.
Above; Laelaps shown in Benjamin Hawkins's painting attacking Hadrosaurus on the left. Probably the influance of Cope's "discovery" of possible hunting behaviour between the two animals due to a Hadrosaur bone fragment found alongside his Laelaps skeleton.
At first Laelaps was considered to be a relative of Megalosaurus as most meat eating dinosaurs of the time were considered. More recently the animal has been suggested as an unspecific Ceoleurosaur and a Tyrannosaur. In 1997 Ken Carpenter suggested that the animal belonged to its own family due to the combinations of unique and Tyrannosaurian features. Appalachiosaurus, another theropod from eastern USA shares many features with Laelaps, but is classified as a Tyrannosaur. This suggests that Laelaps was a highly derived Tyrannosaur.
Above; the skeleton of Laelaps showing the primitive Tyrannosaurian condition of three fingers rather than two. The slender legs suggests that Laelaps was a fast mover, capable of running down swift prey.
Above; a modern reconstruction of Laelaps (now called Dryptosaurus). This creature has changed faces several times. First considered to be a kind of Megalosaur it is now thought to be a late surviving member of the primitive Tyrannosaur stock.
In his final days in 1897, being seriously ill Cope was visited by Charels Knite, a renouned boligical artist of his day. Cope advised Knite on how to portray prehistoric life in an article he was illustrating for the Century magazine. One of the many animals portrayed was Laelaps, shown in the painting leaping at another individual as a warm blooded and active animal would do. Later on palaeontologists rejected the idea of dinosaurs being so active. They were reptiles and thus had to be cold blooded and slow moving. In the 1970's and 80's palaeontologist Robert Bakker in his book "The Dinosaur Herisies", published in 1986 attacks the view of dinosaurs as lumbering giants and thus ressurects Cope's and Knite's visions of sprightly dinosaurs. Indeed one of Bakkers beautiful illustrations that accompanies his book shows 2 raptor dinosaurs in exactly the same position as Knite's leaping Laelaps, quite literally stating that the 19th century reconstructions were more accurate than the sluggish ones of the 1960's. More so, this image has made Laelaps one of the more well known dinosaurs, despite the incomplete remains and lack of evidence. It seems that Cope's lively imagination finally paid off, making Laelaps a dinosaur icon for hundreds of years to come.