New Species of Carnivorous Dinosaur Discovered on the Island of Madagascar

First Posted: Apr 19, 2013 10:49 AM EDT

About 90 million years ago, a carnivorous dinosaur roamed what is now the island of Madagascar. Stretching between nine and 14 feet long, it belonged to a group of dinosaurs called abelisauroids, common to the southern continents. Now, researchers have discovered the fossils of this ancient creature--the first new species of dinosaur to have been found in the area in nearly a decade.

Named Dahalokely tokana, this dinosaur's remains were first excavated in 2007 and 2010 near the city of Antsiranana in northernmost Madagascar. Bones that were recovered included vertebrae and ribs. You wouldn't think that would be enough to identify the dinosaur, but because this area of the skeleton is so distinct in some dinosaurs the researchers were able to classify it as a new species. More specifically, the shapes of some of the cavities on the sides of the vertebrae were unlike those found in any other dinosaur.

When Dahalokely roamed the Earth, Madagascar was actually not an island. Instead, it was connected to India, though the two landmasses were isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean. About 88 million years ago, these landmasses separated--a time after Dahalokely existed. This could mean that the dinosaur could have been the ancient ancestor of some of the dinosaur species found on the island. Already, researchers have identified an intriguing mix of features in the fossils that are found in dinosaurs from both Madagascar and India.

"We had always suspected that abelisauroids were in Madagascar 90 million years ago, because they were also found in younger rocks on the island," said project leader Andrew Farke in a press release. "But the fossils of Dahalokely are tantalizingly incomplete--there is so much more we want to know. Was Dahalokely closely related to later abelisauroids on Madagascar, or did it die out without descendents?"

Abelisauroidae is a family of dinosaurs that thrived during the Cretaceous period. Their fossils have been found in Africa, South America, India and Madagascar. Although they first appeared in the fossil record in the early middle Jurassic period, they survived until the end of the Mesozoic. Like in the Tyrannosaurus, many of the abelisauroid's forelimbs are vestigial, which means that they weren't used. The hind legs, in contrast were powerful enough to propel the dinosaurs toward their prey.

"This dinosaur was closely related to other famous dinosaurs from the southern continents, like the horned Carnotaurus from Argentina and Majungasaurus, also from Madagascar," said Joe Sertich, one of the team members who discovered the new dinosaur, in a press release. "This just reinforces the importance of exploring new areas around the world where undiscovered dinosaur species are still waiting."

The details of the new dinosaur are published in the journal PLOS One.

Want to see a picture of the dinosaur? Check it out here.

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