Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dinosaur Cannibal Unearthed in Madagascar

03.04.2003


Artistic rendering of the theropod dinosaur Majungatholus atopus feeding from the remins of a conspecific
Credit: Artwork by Demetrios M. Vital

The exotic island of Madagascar, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, was a dangerous place to live 65 million to 70 million years ago. Crocodiles swarmed in the rivers, and a 30-foot-long, meat-eating dinosaur named Majungatholus atopus stalked the plains. Like most carnivorous dinosaurs, Majungatholus had teeth perfectly suited for ripping into flesh. But what was on the menu? Until now, this question has remained a mystery.

In a report published in the April 3 issue of the Journal Nature, Raymond Rogers, a geologist from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, along with colleagues David Krause of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Kristina Curry Rogers of the Science Museum of Minnesota, provide an answer. Majungatholus was a cannibal-it regularly dined upon members of its own species. It also fed upon the remains of other dinosaurs, including gigantic long-necked sauropods called titanosaurs.

"This research greatly expands our understanding of how dinosaur species related to each other in the context of their environment, and also serves as a way of increasing public awareness of and appreciation for the earth sciences," said Rich Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s division of earth sciences, which funded the research.

In their report, Rogers and colleagues document the first clear cut evidence for cannibalism among dinosaurs. The clues come in the form of distinct tooth marks (like those a dog might leave on a bone today) on Majungatholus bones, and they unquestionably point the finger at Majungatholus itself.

According to Rogers, the fossil evidence is compelling and unprecedented. "We have examined literally thousands of dinosaur bones from sites around the world, and we’ve never seen fossil material quite like this."

Fossilized bones from two Majungatholus individuals show indication of intense feeding, with distinctive sets of tooth marks that match the size and spacing of teeth in Majungatholus’ jaws, and smaller grooves that match the sharp serrations on Majungatholus’ blade-like teeth.

Rogers and his colleagues are careful to rule out other potential suspects who lived alongside Majungatholus. "We examined the jaws and teeth of other known meat-eaters in the Malagasy fauna, including a much smaller carnivorous dinosaur called Masiakasaurus knopfleri, and two large crocodiles" stated Rogers, but only Majungatholus possessed the jaws and teeth capable of inflicting the damage the scientists saw.

"Despite the bad press that human cannibals receive, this discovery of cannibalism in a theropod dinosaur should come as no big surprise," said Rogers. Cannibalism as a feeding strategy is very common in the animal kingdom today." Animals ranging from insects to lions regularly consume members of their own species, and they do so for a variety of ecologic and evolutionary reasons, scientists believe.

With regard to dinosaurs, the only other example of a cannibal is the small Triassic theropod Coelophysis bauri, which is said to have the remains of juvenile individuals preserved in its stomach region. However, a recent reappraisal of the evidence suggests that claims of cannibalistic feeding by Coelophysis may be unsubstantiated, said Rogers. Not so in the case of Majungatholus. "We have the smoking gun in the form of diagnostic tooth marks, and we can definitely rule out all of the other carnivores known to have been on the scene," said Rogers. "These tooth-marked bones are a ’snapshot’ of a day in the life-and death-of Majungatholus."

Unfortunately, concluded Rogers, "we don’t know whether Majungatholus killed both of the individuals in our sample, or opportunistically scavenged their remains." However, there is a good indication that Majungatholus lived during hard times.

In the Late Cretaceous Madagascar was characterized by a seasonal and semi-arid climate, much like that of Madagascar today. The ancient environment saw dramatic fluctuations in essential resources such as food and water, which apparently led to mass die-offs among animal populations. According to Rogers, Majungatholus may have scavenged from the carcasses of its own dead in order to deal with dire nutritional needs in times of environmental stress. "It appears as though Majungatholus atopus exploited all available resources during stressful episodes, even if it meant dining on members of its own species."

Cheryl Dybas | NSF
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov
http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Large-Mouthed Fish Was Top Predator After Mass Extinction
26.07.2017 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds
25.07.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses

Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.

Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Programming cells with computer-like logic

27.07.2017 | Life Sciences

Identified the component that allows a lethal bacteria to spread resistance to antibiotics

27.07.2017 | Life Sciences

Malaria Already Endemic in the Mediterranean by the Roman Period

27.07.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>