Masiakasaurus had dentition adapted to catching fast-moving prey.
Masiakasaurus Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Masiakasaurus knopfleri
Masiakasaurus Conservation Status
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Masiakasaurus is a genus of small theropod dinosaurs that lived in Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous (about 70.7–65.5 million years ago). Only one species of this dinosaur has been found to date. It was a small predator adapted to catching small and fast-moving prey. Scientists have a fairly complete picture of how this dinosaur may have looked since the fossils found so far make up more than 50 percent of a complete specimen. This means it is one of the most well-known dinosaurs in its family.
Description and Size
Masiakasaurus is a genus of small-sized predators from the Cretaceous of Madagascar. The genus name is from the local Malagasy word “masiaka,” which translates as “vicious.” Thus, the full name Masiakasaurus means “vicious lizard.” Only one species has been identified so far. Masiakasaurus knopfleri, the first and only species in the genus, was named after musician Mark Knopfler.
Masiakasaurus was a relatively small dinosaur. It grew to a length of about 6.6 feet and weighed about 44 pounds on average. Masiakasaurus was a bipedal dinosaur. This means the forelimbs of this dinosaur were shorter than the hind limbs. It had a relatively narrow neck which was shaped differently from that of other theropod dinosaurs. While most theropods had s-shaped necks, Masiakasaurus had a stiff horizontally-positioned neck that had only a slight curve.
One of the most prominent features of this dinosaur is its uniquely shaped teeth. Unlike other theropods whose front teeth tend to project straight downward, the Masiakasaurus had teeth that projected forward and outward, suggesting a specialized diet.
From the fossils of this dinosaur found so far, two distinct forms of the Masiakasaurus are known. One had a more bulky build with thicker bones, while the other was less robust and would have been more agile. Experts are unsure if these two fossil types represent distinct varieties of this species or if the animal exhibited sexual dimorphism.
The skull of the Masiakasaurus looked slightly different from that of the abelisaurid dinosaurs, even though they were relatives. While the abelisaurids tend to have a deep skull, the Masiakasaurus’s skull was long and low. They also had some bumpy projections around their eyes, which would have given the skin above a sort of textured appearance.
Diet — What Did Masiakasaurus Eat?
Although experts tend to agree that the Masiakasaurus was a carnivore, there are different theories about the exact diet of this dinosaur. The unique dentition of this dinosaur fuels the controversy. The front teeth of Masiakasaurus look like they were for grasping small, fast-moving prey but not for tearing larger foods apart.
The front teeth looked considerably different from that of other carnivorous dinosaurs. The forward-projecting teeth were long and spoon-shaped and had hooked edges with weak serrations. Based on this unique dental structure, experts think their diet consisted of fish and other small, fast-moving prey. They may have consumed small invertebrates or even fruits. Their back teeth were not so different from that of other theropods. It served the same function of cutting and slicing through prey’s flesh.
Habitat — When and Where Masiakasaurus Lived
Masiakasaurus inhabited the Island of Madagascar during the Cretaceous Period. This was about 72.1 to 66 million years ago. We do not know a lot about the specific nature of their habitats. We do know that the environment where they lived had several small animals, including tiny mammals, avian dinosaurs, and small crocodilians. They lived alongside dinosaurs like the Rapetosaurus, Majungasaurus, and Rahonavis.
If the theory that they had a fish-based diet is anything to go by, this dinosaur probably made its home close to water bodies and snatched prey directly out of the water. However, this seems unlikely because the island where they lived was a semi-arid landscape during the Late Cretaceous. However, studies show that many of the prehistoric animals that lived in Madagascar around that period lived around a coastal floodplain that had many sandy river channels.
Threats and Predators
Considering the relatively small size of this dinosaur, they would have been easy-picking for any of the large-sized dinosaurs. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of giant predators in their home habitat. They lived alongside relatively small dinosaurs like the Rahonavis and herbivores like the Rapetosaurus. Although this means they didn’t have a lot of predators, these dinosaurs were carnivores as well, which means they would have competed for food and other resources to survive in their home habitat.
Scientists think Majungasaurus, a type of large abelisaurid dinosaur that lived in Madagascar around the same time, may have preyed on Masiakasaurus. They came to this conclusion based on puncture marks found in one fossil of the Masiakasaurus. However, this may have been from scavengers or even disease.
Discoveries and Fossils — Where Masiakasaurus Was Found
The first fossils of the Masiakasaurus were described in 2001. The remains were found in Late Cretaceous rocks near the village of Berivotra on the northwestern edge of the Island of Madagascar. The remains were fragmentary. Only 40 percent of the dinosaur’s bones were preserved. The find included skull fragments with teeth, humerus, pubis, and vertebrae bones.
Paleontologists discovered another specimen in 2011. This was a better-preserved fossil with the braincase, jaws, facial bones, rib cage, and portions of the upper limbs well-preserved. The fact that it contained many missing bones in the first find made this discovery quite important. The new bones helped to clarify the anatomy of this dinosaur. Up to 65% of the dinosaur’s skeleton has now been reconstructed.
Extinction — When Did It Die Out?
Masiakasaurus lived between 72 and 66 million years ago. While the reason for their extinction isn’t exactly clear, the disappearance seems to coincide with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which occurred about 66 million years ago and wiped out all the non-avian dinosaurs that were living at the time.
Similar Animals to the Masiakasaurus
Similar animals to the Masiakasaurus include:
- Majungasaurus —This is a genus of abelisaurid theropod dinosaurs that lived in Madagascar around the same time as the Masiakasauraus. Since it was significantly bigger in size, there are speculations that this dinosaur might have been a predator of the Masiakasaurus.
- Rapetosaurus — This is a genus of sauropod dinosaurs that lived in Madagascar between 70 and 66 million years ago. Like the Masiakasaurus, this dinosaur also disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
- Rahonavis — This is a bird-like dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. It was a small predator, and experts think it could probably fly.
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Masiakasaurus FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When was the Masiakasaurus alive?
The Masiakasaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous Period in Madagascar. This dinosaur was alive between 72 and 66 million years ago. It eventually went extinct towards the end of the Cretaceous.
How big was the Masiakasaurus?
Masiakasaurus was a relatively small theropod dinosaur. It grew to a length of about 6.6 feet on average and weighed roughly 44 pounds.
Where did the Masiakasaurus live?
Fossils of the Masiakasaurus have been found in Madagascar, and scientists think this was the dinosaur’s main ecological distribution. Although relatives of this dinosaur (family Noasauridae) were widespread in South America, the dinosaur itself only existed on the island of Madagascar near the southeastern shore of Africa.
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masiakasaurus
- Prehistoric Wildlife, Available here: http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/m/masiakasaurus.html
- Dinopedia, Available here: https://dinopedia.fandom.com/wiki/Masiakasaurus