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Flycatcher? The flaring front teeth may have been used to capture insects.

Dire Straits Dinosaurs

By: 
Erik Stokstad
2001-01-24 19:00
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The carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods--such as Tyrannosaurus rex--are famous for their sharp, curved, wickedly serrated teeth. But no known theropod has teeth as strange as those of the one reported in the 25 January issue of Nature. Discovered in Madagascar a few years ago, the dino's front teeth flare out from the front of the jaw.

To lead author Scott Sampson of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the strange dentition suggests that the 1.8-meter-long dino may have captured insects or small vertebrates, as do South American marsupials known as caenolestids. These mammals also sport conelike teeth that point forward, and they use them to grasp insects. But teeth for eating this way had never been found in theropods of the Upper Cretaceous, or any other time. "It shows there's still more to theropod lifestyles than we thought," says theropod expert Tom Holtz of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Also out of the ordinary is the new dinosaur's name--Masiakasaurus knopfleri. It's meant as a tribute to guitarist Mark Knopfler, founder of the group Dire Straits, whose music the paleontologists listened to while digging in a quarry. "We were having a great field season, so we associated it with our good fortune," says team member Matthew Carrano of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Naming the new fossil after Knopfler, he adds, "just seemed the appropriate thing to do."

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More information about the expeditions to Madagascar and other finds

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