Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Malagasy Dinosaur

When I first read the name Malagasy Dinosaur, my eyes rearranged the letters and I thought I had read “Madagascar Dinosaur”. Then I thought, Of course not. Madagascar isn’t big enough to have had a population of dinosaurs.

Well, it turns out Madagascar is big enough. I guess you can’t judge a place by how it looks on a map. Especially not when it’s snuggled up next to a continent as big as Africa.

Madagascar is an island, and it’s believed it separated from the super-continent Gondwana about 85 million years ago. It has plenty of wildlife of some pretty strange species, as evolution has worked to fill all the niches in the food chain. Fossils found on Madagascar seem to indicate it’s had some strange species for a long, lo-o-ong time. Here’s some samples:

Beelzebofus antinga, an extinct frog that weighed up to five kilo (11 pounds). It is the heaviest extinct frog ever known. (Okay, not a dinosaur, but still…) If they were still around, maybe they’d be raised as food, like a chicken?

Rapetosaurus krausei was a dinosaur that reached 15 meters (49 feet) in length. It walked on all 4 feet and had a small head on a very long neck. It was a vegetarian, so I suppose we’d only have to worry that it might step on us, if we’d been alive at the same time as it.

Rahonavis ostromi was about 50 cm (19-20 inches), wore feathers over its entire body, had claws, a long skull and a mouth full of sharp teeth. Could this be the ‘missing link’ between dinosaurs and birds?

Sinosuchus clarki looked somewhat like a modern crocodile. Kinda. Except it was less than 80 cm (32 inches) long, including a short, broad head and a short tail. It also had teeth perfect for grazing on plants, and bone plates under its skin to protect it from predators.

Speaking of crocodile-like dinosaurs, the Araripesuchus tsangatsangana looked a lot like modern crocodiles, except it had much longer legs.

But none of these interesting creatures were the one called the Malagasy dinosaur. Only the Majungasaurus crenatissimus bears that nick-name. The Malagasy looked similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, except it only reached a length of 6 to 8 meters (19 to 26 feet) and probably only weighed a ton. Even though it was so much smaller than its cousins, scientists say it took 20 years to reach its full size, so it grew much more slowly than the others, also. They made that discovery by studying cross-sections of several bones from a nearly complete skeleton found in 2003. The bones had marks of annual growth, rather like trees have tree rings. Of course, some bones had marrow in the center, displacing the earliest years’ record of growth. Other bones were hollow, and many of the bones were carved in order to reduce the creature’s weight.

The Malagasy lived 66 to 70 million years ago. However, it seems to have links to dinosaurs in south Asia (India) and South America (Argentina). So, could it be that Madagascar clung to Gondwana longer than was thought?

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