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Cannibalism in the Madagascan dinosaur Majungatholus atopus

Abstract

Many lines of evidence have been brought to bear on the question of theropod feeding ecology, including functional and physiological considerations, morphological constraints, taphonomic associations, and telling—although rare—indications of direct ingestion1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Tooth marks of theropods, although rarely described and generally left unassigned to a particular taxon, can provide unique clues into predator–prey interaction8, and can also yield insights into the extent of carcass utilization9,10. Here we describe a sample of tooth-marked dinosaur bone recovered from three well-documented localities in the Upper Cretaceous Maevarano Formation of Madagascar that provides insights into the feeding ecology of the abelisaurid theropod Majungatholus atopus11. Intensely tooth-marked elements from multiple individuals show that Majungatholus defleshed dinosaur carcasses. Furthermore, Majungatholus clearly fed upon the remains of not only sauropods, but also conspecifics, and thus was a cannibal. Cannibalism is a common ecological strategy among extant carnivores, but until now the evidence in relation to carnivorous dinosaurs has been sparse and anecdotal.

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Figure 1: Representative sample of tooth-marked Majungatholus atopus bones (FMNH PR2100) from quarry MAD96-01.
Figure 2: Physical evidence linking Majungatholus atopus to the tooth marks.
Figure 3: Rapetosaurus krausei pubis (FMNH PR2255) from quarry MAD93-18 with evidence of peripheral feeding along the element's distal margin.
Figure 4: Occlusal views of right dentaries of selected carnivorous taxa in the Maevarano Formation.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the villagers of Berivotra, the staff of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments, and the faculty of the University of Antananarivo for logistical support, and all field crew members of the Mahajanga Basin Project for their dedicated efforts. We thank L. Betti-Nash for providing artwork for Fig. 4, and K. Chin, G. Erickson, J. Holstein, B. Koralesky, P. O'Connor, S. Sampson, W. Simpson and J. Thole for comments and discussions. This work was supported by NSF, National Geographic Society and Macalester College.

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Rogers, R., Krause, D. & Curry Rogers, K. Cannibalism in the Madagascan dinosaur Majungatholus atopus. Nature 422, 515–518 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01532

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