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Stony Brook University paleontologists, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Antananarivo, started digging for dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous period of Madagascar in 1993. Through the course of five expeditions, they have made some amazing discoveries, including at least three kinds of dinosaurs that are new to science.


The dinosaurs include everything from plant-eating behemoths known as titanosaurid sauropods, all with torsos the size of school-buses, down to the collie-size predator Masiakasaurus. The titanosaurid specimens are the most complete ever known for the group and include at least one new form that we will name Rapetosaurus. "Rapeto" refers to a mischievous giant in Malagasy folklore. Masiakasaurus is also new to science, the word "masiaka" meaning "vicious" in the Malagasy language. Masiakasaurus had a bizarre set of teeth up front that jutted forward.



The most spectacular dinosaur discovery was made in 1996, when the paleontologists uncovered a nearly complete and exquisitely preserved skull of the meat-eater, Majungatholus. This, and many other discoveries, allowed the paleontologists to reach some exciting conclusions about the plate tectonic history of the southern super-continent of Gondwana.


In addition to dinosaurs, the paleontologists have made exciting discoveries of fishes, frogs, turtles, snakes, crocodiles, birds, and mammals. Perhaps most exciting is the extraordinary diversity of crocodiles. There are over seven different kinds! They range in size from small, insectivorous forms that were less than a meter in length to giants over 5 meters long. Most spectacular of all is a new, pug-nosed form, Simosuchus clarki, with strange teeth that were adapted for eating plants!

The bird fossils include a new form that we have called Rahonavis ostromi and that helps prove the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs.


To learn more about the research project, check out the August, 2000 issue of National Geographic magazine, the March, 1997 issue of Natural History magazine, or, for children, the September, 2000 issue of Odyssey magazine. A more technical overview of the project was published in the August, 1999 issue of GSA Today.?Several specimens are currently on exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

Children can read "Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar" by Nic Bishop. "Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs" is about Stony Brook University paleontologist Catherine Forster and her efforts to discover dinosaurs and early birds in Madagascar and to search for clues to the mysterious origins of birds.?Click on the book to purchase it online or to read a review.?

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