Facts and Figureso on Majungasaurus

Facts and Figureso on Majungasaurus

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Majungasaurus (Greek for "Majunga lizard"); pronounced ma-JUNG-ah-SORE-us


Woodlands of northern Africa

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (70-65 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and one ton



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Short, blunt snout; spike on forehead; unusually small arms; bipedal posture

About Majungasaurus

The dinosaur formerly known as Majungatholus ("Majunga dome") until its current name took precedence for paleontological reasons, Majungasaurus was a one-ton meat-eater native to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. Technically classified as an abelisaur--and thus closely related to the South American Abelisaurus--Majungasaurus was distinguished from other dinosaurs of its kind by its unusually blunt snout and the single, tiny horn on top of its skull, a rare feature for a theropod. Like another famous abelisaur, Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus also possessed unusually short arms, which presumably wasn't a major hindrance in the pursuit of prey (and may, in fact, have made it slightly more aerodynamic when running!)

Although it certainly wasn't the habitual cannibal portrayed on breathless TV documentaries (most famously the late and unlamented Jurassic Fight Club), there's good evidence that at least some Majungasaurus adults occasionally preyed on others of their kind: paleontologists have discovered Majungasaurus bones bearing Majungasaurus tooth marks. What's unknown is whether the adults of this genus actively hunted down their living relative when they were hungry, or simply feasted on the carcasses of already-dead family members (and if the latter is the case, this behavior wouldn't have been unique to Majungasaurus, dinosaur-wise, or for that matter to any living creatures except modern human beings).

Like many other large theropods of the late Cretaceous period, Majungasaurus has proven difficult to classify. When it was first discovered, researchers mistook it for a pachycephalosaur, or bone-headed dinosaur, thanks to that odd protrusion on its skull (the "tholus," meaning "dome," in its original name Majungatholus is a root usually found in pachycephalosaur names, like Acrotholus and Sphaerotholus). Today, the closest contemporary relatives of Majungasaurus are a subject of dispute; some paleontologists point to obscure meat-eaters like Ilokelesia and Ekrixinatosaurus, while others throw up their (presumably not so tiny) arms in frustration.