Illustration by Pixeldust Studios
Reconstruction of the head of Masiakasaurus knopfleri based on fossils recently discovered in Madagascar. Image copyright Bill Parsons
January 29, 2001
It had a long neck and tail, walked on two feet, and weighed about as much as a German shepherd.
But the most unique feature of the newly discovered Masiakasaurus knopfleri is its teeth, some of which protruded from its jaw almost horizontally.
Scott Sampson, along with other paleontologists, discovered fossil evidence of this small carnivorous dinosaur on the island of Madagascar. “When we dug up the first lower jaw bone, we weren’t even sure it belonged to a dinosaur,” said Sampson.
The Masiakasaurus knopfleri’s lower front teeth are nearly horizontal, with the teeth angle increasing until the dinosaur’s fourth tooth, after which the teeth are vertical.
Although the back teeth of the dinosaur are similar to other predatory dinosaurs, their horizontal, conical front teeth “are otherwise unknown among other [predatory] dinosaurs,” according to the Masiakasaurus’ discoverers.
The dinosaur’s fossils were dated to the Late Cretaceous period (about 65-70 million years ago). They show a five- to six-foot (about two-meter) long dinosaur that weighed about 80 pounds (35 kilograms).
The name of the new dinosaur is derived from masiaka, the Malagasy word for “vicious” and sauros, which is Greek for “lizard.” Knopfleri honors musician Mark Knopfler, lead singer of Dire Straits. The scientists credit Knopfler’s music as a lucky charm; it seemed that many of their most important discoveries were made whenever they were listening to his songs.
“Finding fossils entails a heavy dose of serendipity,” said Sampson, “and we’ll take good luck any way we can get it.”
The excavation was funded in part by the National Geographic Society’s Committee on Research and Exploration.
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