Masiakasaurus is a small bizarre meat-eating dinosaur that was named in 2001. It surprised paleontologists because of its oddly shaped jaws and protruding teeth. It lived in Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous, at the end of the 'age of the dinosaurs', 65 million years ago.
The first bones of Masiakasaurus were recovered as isolated specimens from asmall area but belonged to at least six individuals. These bonesrepresented about 40% of the skeleton and were described in 2001.More fossil material was subsequently discovered at 30 localitiesacross northern Madagascar, and these were described in 2011,providing information on a substantial 65% of the skeleton. Thismakes Masiakasaurus one of the best know dinosaurs of itskind.
Only one species of Masiakasaurus has been discovered, M. knopfleri. The genus name stems from the Malagasy wordmasiaka, meaning vicious, and the Greek sauros, meaning lizard. Thepalaeontologists who described M. knopfleri gave it a species name to honour thesinger/songwriter Mark Knopfler of the band Dire Straits, whosemusic they said inspired their expedition crews!
Masiakasaurus belongs to a group of predatory dinosaurscalled abelisauroids. Before the discovery of Masiakasaurus, small abelisauroids were known only fromSouth America. The presence of one in Madagascar was therefore asurprise, and suggests that small abelisauroids radiated across thesouthern hemisphere. Masiakasaurus lived in Madagascar alongside other, largerabelisauroids, and large long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs.
Masiakasaurus is unique because the tips of its jaws splayoutwards and its front teeth point forward. It also has differenttypes of teeth in its jaws. For example, the large teeth at thefront of its jaws have hooked tips. The purpose of its unusual jawsand teeth is unknown, but modern mammals with similar teeth arespecialized for eating insects, so perhaps Masiakasaurus was an insect-eating dinosaur.