Majungasaurus was one of the last dinosaurs to live, right at the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago. They lived in Madagascar and, due to the abundance of fossil remains of this species, particularly skulls, they are one of the best-studied species in the Southern Hemisphere. They had a short snout (typical of their family, the abelisaurids) and a small horn which probably would have been covered in keratin in life, like a rhinoceros. Both the males and females had this horn.
Like many others of its family, the arms were exceptionally short and some scientists even speculate that they would have been completely immobile. They had two fingers on each of their hands and no claws. Further, the bones in their hands were fused, making any movement they could have made very stiff.
The first specimen of Majungasaurus was discovered in 1896 by the French paleontologist Charles Deperet, though he didn’t know what he had found. At the time, only a few bones were found, some teeth and vertebrae. Deperet classified the new species under a broader taxonomy, Megalosaurus, which was used to describe many unrelated species. He later classified Majungasaurus as Dryptosaurus. It was only later when more teeth remains were found that the species was correctly distinguished from Dryptosaurus and named Majungasaurus. The name comes from the Mahajunga Basin (an older spelling of the name), where the excavation took place and where more specimens have been found.
The shape of the skull gives some indication as to how Majungasaurus hunted. Most predators had narrow snouts, which made for a more powerful bite. Scientists tend to think that they hunted like dogs, delivering several bites until their prey died. Majungasaurus, on the other hand, had a shorter snout and a stronger neck. This means that they could have withstood holding on to their prey like modern cats do, and probably hunted in just that way. This hypothesis is further supported by the strengthened vertebrae and ribs and the flat surface on the back of the teeth, which would be better for the holding method rather than shearing. Their tremendous strength has suggested to some that they were specialized in hunting sauropods, other immensely powerful animals.
There is evidence that Majungasaurus was a cannibal, or at least had some cannibalistic behavior. Bite marks identical to Majungasaurus‘ bite on sauropods has been found on other Majungasaurus bones in the same location. Perhaps they killed each other fighting over other prey, and then ate them, or perhaps they behaved opportunistically and ate those who had already died. Nevertheless, they are to this day the only theropod to eat their own kind.
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