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A bizarre predatory dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar


Here we report the discovery of a small-bodied (1.8 m) predatory dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of Madagascar. Masiakasaurus knopfleri, gen. et sp. nov., represented by several skull elements and much of the postcranial skeleton, is unique in being the only known theropod with a highly procumbent and distinctly heterodont lower dentition. Such a derived dental morphology is otherwise unknown among dinosaurs. Numerous skeletal characteristics indicate that Masiakasaurus is a member of Abelisauroidea, an enigmatic clade of Gondwanan theropods. Previously, small-bodied abelisauroids were known only from Argentina1,2,3. The occurrence of Masiakasaurus on Madagascar suggests that small-bodied abelisauroids, like their larger-bodied counterparts, were more cosmopolitan, radiating throughout much of Gondwana and paralleling the diversification of small coelurosaur theropods in Laurasia.

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We thank A. Rasoamiaramanana, B. Rakotosamimanana, P. Wright, B. Andriamihaja and the staff of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments for help with fieldwork in Madagascar; members of the 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999 expeditions for their efforts; F. Novas amd P. Currie for photographs of Noasaurus; D. Krause for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript; V. Heisey for preparation; F. Grine for scanning electron microscope photography; and L. Betti-Nash and J. Higgins for assistance with the figures. This work was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Dinosaur Society.

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Correspondence to Scott D. Sampson.

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Further reading

Figure 1: Skeletal anatomy of Masiakasaurus knopfleri, based on a composite of isolated specimens from locality MAD 93-18.
Figure 2: Dentary and lower dentition of Masiakasaurus knopfleri.
Figure 3: Stratigraphically calibrated cladogram of phylogenetic relationships of Abelisauroidea, including Masiakasaurus.


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