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Hole in dinosaur fossil record filled with ‘thief’

By JOSHUA SCARALIA | May 9, 2013

A new species of dinosaur named Dahalokely tokana (pronounced “dah-HAH-loo-KAY-lee too-KAH-nah”) recently discovered in Madagascar has helped to fill in the important missing fossil record from that area.

Until this point, there had been no fossil record between 165 and 70 million years ago in Madagascar.  Dahlokely tokana lived 90 million years ago, shortening this large gap by 20 million years.

The only fossils found were the vertebrae and ribs which were discovered in 2007 and 2010 near the city of Antsiranana in northern Madagascar.  Amazingly, using only these bones, researchers were able to identify the discovered dinosaur as a new species which they named Dahlokely tokana. This area of bone is specific to most dinosaurs allowing researchers to compare it to other known fossils. Novel cavities on the side of the vertebrae indicated to scientists that they had discovered something previously unrecorded.

The name Dahlokely tokana translates to “small lonely bandit” in Malagasy.  The translation to “small lonely bandit” refers to its carnivorous diet as well as the fact that it lived around the time when India and Madagascar were isolated from the rest of the world.  Madagascar disconnected with India around 88 million years ago.  Because Dahlokely lived before this split, it potentially has ancestors that lived in both Madagascar and India.  However, because the skeleton of Dahlokely is incomplete, there cannot be anything said about whether it lived long enough to produce any descendants.  Researchers are still tryingto discover a species of dinosaur that lived after this split.

Several distinctive features about the bones placed Dahlokely tokana in the Abelisauridae family (meaning “Abel’s lizards”) of cretosaurian theropod dinosaurs. This family of dinosaur was common to the ancient southern supercontinent known as Gondwana including what is now known as South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica.  Other fossils of dinosaurs that belong to this family have been found in many different southern and central countries such as India, Argentina and various other countries in South America.

As a member of the Abelisauridae family, Dahlokely was a small carnivore roughly the height of a human.  The Abelisauridae family thrived during the Crataceous period but dates back to the mid Jurassic period.  One species of Abelisauridae, Majungasaurus crenatissimus, survived until the end of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago.  One species of Abelisauridae, Carnotaurus, was featured in the 2000 Disney movie “Dinosaur.”  However, for dramatic purposes, it was depicted as a great deallarger than it actually was.

The research team was headed by Andrew Farke, the Augstyn Family Curator of Paleontology at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and funded by Jurassic Foundation, Sigma Xi, National Science Foundation and the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleonology.  The paper discussing the discovery of Dahlokely tokana appeared in the April 18, 2013 release of the Journal PLOS ONE.


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