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MASS - oh - SPON - die - lus

Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Massive vertebra"
Length: 16 feet 6 inches (5 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Early Jurassic
Location: Arizona, USA; South Africa; Zimbabwe; Lesotho

A medium-sized prosauropod, Massospondylus had a particularly small head. Its upper jaw jutted out beyond the bottom jaw and its mouth contained a variety of tooth types. According to some researchers, these features indicate that Massospondylus was a carnivore. They claim that it used its sharper front teeth to rip flesh from its victims and its flatter rear teeth to chew up this flesh. Most paleontologists, however, argue that Massospondylus was a plant-eater-like all its close relatives. The fact that grinding stones have been found from the stomach of Massospondylus lends support to this view. It has also been suggested that the lower jaw may have had a horny beak to bring it into line with the protruding upper jaw, but there is no physical evidence for this in the fossils.

Massospondylus was lightly built for a prosauropod, and much of its length was accounted for by its long neck and tail. Its body was similar in size to that of a large dog. The enlarged sickle-like thumb claws seen in other prosauropods were particularly well developed. We do not know exactly how Massospondylus used these huge claws. They would no doubt have made formidable weapons when the animal reared up on its hind legs to ward off predators-or perhaps to fight rival member of the species for mates. They may also have been useful in gathering food.

The english anatomist and paleontologist Sir Richard Owen first described Massospondylus in 1854. He based his description-and named the dinosaur-on the evidence of several large vertebrae. Although the earliest specimens were from southern Africa, in present-day South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe, it was later found in Arizona in the United States. Such a transatlantic distribution was possible in the early Jurassic, when the continents were joined and dinosaurs could cross what are now wide oceans.

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