Dinosaurs: Masiakasaurus!

Masiakasaurus,Copyright2015 Liz Vitale

A small theropod from Madagascar,Masiakasaurus (mah-SHEE-a-kah-SOR-us) was about the size of a German Shepherd and not too remarkable.

Except for one feature: its teeth. The front teeth on the lower jaw stick out horizontally,giving it the appearance of needing a good orthodontist.

A few types of mammals today–including various shrews and a group of South American marsupials known as caenolestids– have similar teeth and may provide some clues as to Masiakasaurus’ diet.  These mammals have long. conical, forward-projecting teeth up front. These front teeth are used for grasping and piercing rather than tearing and slicing, and the prey generally consists of insects. The jaws of Masiakasaurus suggest a similar feeding strategy, possibly also enabling the little carnivore to have eaten small vertebrates as well.

The discovery of this dinosaur Masiakasaurus Knopfleri , was announced in January of 2001 by a team of researchers led by paleontologist Dr. Scott D. Sampson of the University of Utah. The dinosaur’s name 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. According to Scott Sampson, the band’s music was a ‘talisman’ for the research team: whenever they played it, they’d find another fossil. Literally translated, it means “‘Vicious lizard of Knopfler”.

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