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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday Ground Up: Dinosaurs in Madagascar

Many children enter a phase one time in their life of being dinosaur fans. The shear size and strength that these creatures held is a fascinating draw that makes researching these creatures, not only educational but fun. While not everyone retains their fascination with Paleontology, those who do are the ones to later be found in the field of Archaeology, putting their love of dinosaurs to practical use.


For those dedicated to the fields of Paleontology and Archaeology there is one event that can be an affirmation of the reasons they chose those fields in the first place and that event is the discovery of a new species of dinosaur in Madagascar.


Facts About Madagascar

  • Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo.
  • Environmental degradation is a major concern as damaging agricultural practices cause deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification.
  • The island of Madagascar broke away from the African continent 165 million years ago.
  • The first settlers of Madagascar were of African and Asian origin, and 18 separate ethnic groups emerged, derived from an African and Malayo-Indonesian mixture.
  • The island of Madagascar is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones.
  • Most of the population depend on subsistence farming, based on rice and cattle, with coffee, vanilla, and seafood being important exports.
  • French colonial rule began in 1896 and Madagascar gained independence in 1960.
  • About 80% of the animals found in Madagascar do not exist anywhere else on Earth.
  • Over 30 different species of lemurs, including aye-ayes, live in Madagascar. They can travel up to 25 feet in one leap!

Dinosaurs in Madagascar

Just when the idea that all of the species of dinosaur had been discovered, a graduate student from Stony Brook University in New York, Kristina Curry Rogers, made a discovery that would unearth more than a fossil in Madagascar. While discovering the bones was excitement in itself, the final revelation after they were sorted was definitely a bonus. The skeleton was that of a young dinosaur that had lived approximately 70 million years ago which was about the time of the height of the last giant dinosaurs’ development.


While most Paleontology students consider making a discovery such as this a potential career boosting find, this particular discovery was only the beginning. Dinosaur research in Madagascar has yielded the discovery of several new species of prehistoric animals.


David Krause of Stony Brook University and his team have several of these discoveries under their collective belts. Along with the discovery described above, there has been several other species discovered by Krause and his team. Finds such as the Majungasaurus crenatissimus,  Rahonavis, an extinct bird, a Simosuchus or short-bodied crocodile like creature and the Beelzebufo which is a toad that is exactly like the modern day toads, the only difference being they weigh in at a hefty 10 pounds.

The discovery of the Majungasaurus crenatissimus by David Krause was an enormous boost to the field of Paleontology. Majungasaurus crenatissimus was a 70 million-year-old meat-eating theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period and is a very distant relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. The skull is one of the best-preserved and most complete dinosaur skulls ever found. The replica is approximately 21 feet long and stands about seven feet high.


The find was featured on the  Science Magazine cover on May 15, 1998 and allowed Krause and his colleagues to explain new conclusions about the plate tectonic history of the southern super-continent of Gondwana (a composite continent, made up of South America, Africa, Antarctica, India, and Australia, and Madagascar); and that dinosaurs, like many living animals, were cannibals.

On May 17, Stony Brook University celebrated the installation of an exact replica, the only ne in North America, of the fossil skeleton of Majungasaurus crenatissimus.


"Majungasaurus was clearly the top predator of its time on Madagascar," said Krause. "Interestingly, numerous bones of Majungasaurus exhibit tooth marks that can be attributed only to Majungasaurus itself. This provides the most conclusive evidence ever discovered for cannibalism in dinosaurs," he said.

Although Krause’s team certainly garnered more than their fair share of new species among the dinosaurs in Madagascar, these were not the only new species that were discovered.

Through their hard work and efforts in dinosaur research in Madagascar, Scott Sampson (a dinosaur paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and educator who divides his work time between scientific research and a variety of education-related projects) and his colleagues from the University of Utah unearthed the Masiakasaurus. While this particular species might have seemed like somewhat of a featherweight among the dinosaurs so far discovered in Madagascar, this 80 pound fellow proved to be a rather formidable opponent, especially since he was a carnivore.

While the discovery of these dinosaurs in Madagascar are definitely important finds for the Archaeology community, the dinosaurs in Madagascar also help give further credence to the long help theory that all of the lands of Earth were once connected.

The dinosaurs that were found may be new species, however, they share certain specialized characteristics with other known predators from other continents. This is more evidence to the idea of a giant connected land mass.


Dinosaur research in Madagascar has helped to yield vital pieces of evidence to support the theory that all of the Earth's land was once one giant land mass. The truly amazing part is that the area of Madagascar has only recently begun to be researched. Considering the wealth of discoveries that have been made so far just imagine the possible discoveries that Madagascar may yet hold.


While the dinosaur research in Madagascar is far from over, the discoveries that have been made at this point hold the possibility of opening up new research in other areas of the Paleontology and Archaeology fields. Among those will, of course, be the theories of a giant land mass. although this is the main theory it will certainly not be the only one to be examined.


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