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Maiasaura

MY - uh - SAW - rah

Ornithopoda/Hadrosauridae
Todd Marshall. Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Good mother lizard"
Length: 30 feet (9 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Late Cretaceous
Location: Montana, USA

Ornithopod nest sites have provided scientists with excellent opportunities to see how dinosaurs were born and grew up. It seems that hypsilophodontid babies could walk as soon as they were hatched, and they may have left the nest soon after. Hadrosaurids had a rather different reproductive strategy. No animal shows that better than Maiasaura.

In fact, the first fossils ever found of Maiasaura were a huge nesting colony, about 75 million years old. It was discovered in the badlands of Montana in 1978 by John Horner and Robert Makela. This colony contained eggs (many of them still intact), babies, and adults; even the arrangement of the eggs in the nest could be seen.

Careful study of the site led to some interesting insights into the nurturing habits of Maiasaura. Many of the baby Maiasaura were clearly to large to be newly hatched but were evidently still living in the nest. Like the leg bones of some species of modern birds, the bones in the legs of the baby Maiasaura were not fully formed. Despite this, their teeth showed signs of wear. The logical conclusion was that the babies were being fed in the nest. This seeming demonstration of parental care inspired the name of this dinosaur, which was bestowed on it by its discoverers in 1979.

It appears that young Maiasaura grew quickly. To some researchers, this suggests that they were warm-blooded. The nests that Horner and Makela found also throw light on the social organization of these hadrosaurs. The number and proximity of the nests indicate that females nested in large groups. Some scientists believe that Maiasaura were strongly social animals that lived in herds of many thousands.

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