London, April 2 (Reuters): Tooth marks in bones from a dinosaur that roamed Madagascar over 65 million years ago are clear evidence it was a cannibal, scientists said.
Although researchers had suspected it, there has been little evidence of what was on the dinosaur menu all those years ago, but scientists in the US said fossil bones from the flesh-eating Majungatholus remove any doubt that it had a taste for members of its own species.
“We have the smoking gun in the form of diagnostic tooth marks, and we can definitely rule out all the other carnivores known to have been on the scene,” said Raymond Rogers of Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota.
Rogers and his colleagues believe the marks on the bones from Majungatholus are the first clear evidence for cannibalism among dinosaurs because the size, spacing and serrations match the blade-like teeth of the species. “Majungatholus’ mouth fits the crime scene,” Rogers said in an interview.
He described the finding, which is reported in the science journal, Nature, as a phenomenal window into dinosaur behaviour and feeding habits.
“It is a look that we rarely get into this level of dinosaur life. This is an actual, clear picture of something that happened 65-70 million years ago that a dinosaur did,” he said.
Another possible example of cannibalism in a dinosaur is in another theropod, or flesh-eater, called Coelophysis. But Rogers said the evidence may be unsubstantiated.
He and his wife, Kristina Curry Rogers of the Science Museum in Minnesota, and David Krause of the State University of New York at Stony Brook examined fossils of the jaws and teeth of other meat-eaters on the island at the time and concluded that only Majungatholus was capable of causing the damage on the bones that had been collected on the island from 1996-1999.
But they are not sure whether Majungatholus, which was up to 9 metres long and a top predator of its time, killed its prey or simply scavenged on the remains. “It looks like it may have opportunistically fed from its own species,” said Rogers.
, a geologist who studies bones to reconstruct how, where and why the creature died.
When it roamed the island off the east coast of Africa the climate was similar to what it is today, seasonal and semi-arid, so at times food may have been scarce and Majungatholus may have resorted to cannibalism to survive.
Rogers said cannibalism is a common animal feeding strategy and scientists believe animals and creatures ranging from insects to lions eat members of their own species for a variety of ecological and evolutionary reasons.
Madagascar is considered a treasure trove of information for scientists because it has been completely isolated from other land masses for tens of millions of years.