Skip To Content
NSF Logo Search GraphicGuide To Programs GraphicImage Library GraphicSite Map GraphicHelp GraphicPrivacy Policy Graphic
OLPA Header Graphic

NSF Press Release


Embargoed until 1 p.m. Eastern Time
NSF PR 03-36 - April 2, 2003

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Rich Lane

 (703) 292-8551

Dinosaur Cannibal Unearthed in Madagascar

artistic rendering of the theropod dinosaur
Artistic rendering of the theropod dinosaur Majungatholus atopus feeding from the remains of a conspecific. Majungatholus was an abelisaurid the ropod that- roamed the plains of northwestern Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous (65-70 mullion years ago). Abundant evidence in the form of tooth-marked bones indicates that Majungatholus was a cannibal. The evidence comes from two separate localities in the Anembalemba Member of the Maevarano Formation (Mahajanga Basin). There is also indication that Majungatholus fed on the remains of contemporary sauropods. including the titanosaur Rapetosaurus krausel.
Artwork by Demetrios M. Vital
Select image for larger version
(Size: 65KB) , or download a high-resolution TIFF version of image (10.7MB)

 Note About Images

Arlington, Va. -- The exotic island of Madagascar, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, was a dangerous place to live 65 million to 70 million years ago. Crocodiles swarmed in the rivers, and a 30-foot-long, meat-eating dinosaur named Majungatholus atopus stalked the plains. Like most carnivorous dinosaurs, Majungatholus had teeth perfectly suited for ripping into flesh. But what was on the menu? Until now, this question has remained a mystery.

In a report published in the April 3 issue of the Journal Nature, Raymond Rogers, a geologist from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, along with colleagues David Krause of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Kristina Curry Rogers of the Science Museum of Minnesota, provide an answer. Majungatholus was a cannibal—it regularly dined upon members of its own species. It also fed upon the remains of other dinosaurs, including gigantic long-necked sauropods called titanosaurs.

"This research greatly expands our understanding of how dinosaur species related to each other in the context of their environment, and also serves as a way of increasing public awareness of and appreciation for the earth sciences," said Rich Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s division of earth sciences, which funded the research.

In their report, Rogers and colleagues document the first clear-cut evidence for cannibalism among dinosaurs. The clues come in the form of distinct tooth marks (like those a dog might leave on a bone today) on Majungatholus bones, and they unquestionably point the finger at Majungatholus itself.

According to Rogers, the fossil evidence is compelling and unprecedented. "We have examined literally thousands of dinosaur bones from sites around the world, and we've never seen fossil material quite like this."

Fossilized bones from two Majungatholus individuals show indication of intense feeding, with distinctive sets of tooth marks that match the size and spacing of teeth in Majungatholus' jaws, and smaller grooves that match the sharp serrations on Majungatholus' blade-like teeth.

Rogers and his colleagues are careful to rule out other potential suspects who lived alongside Majungatholus. "We examined the jaws and teeth of other known meat-eaters in the Malagasy fauna, including a much smaller carnivorous dinosaur called Masiakasaurus knopfleri, and two large crocodiles" stated Rogers, but only Majungatholus possessed the jaws and teeth capable of inflicting the damage the scientists saw.

"Despite the bad press that human cannibals receive, this discovery of cannibalism in a theropod dinosaur should come as no big surprise," said Rogers. Cannibalism as a feeding strategy is very common in the animal kingdom today." Animals ranging from insects to lions regularly consume members of their own species, and they do so for a variety of ecologic and evolutionary reasons, scientists believe.

With regard to dinosaurs, the only other example of a cannibal is the small Triassic theropod Coelophysis bauri, which is said to have the remains of juvenile individuals preserved in its stomach region. However, a recent reappraisal of the evidence suggests that claims of cannibalistic feeding by Coelophysis may be unsubstantiated, said Rogers. Not so in the case of Majungatholus. "We have the smoking gun in the form of diagnostic tooth marks, and we can definitely rule out all of the other carnivores known to have been on the scene," said Rogers. "These tooth-marked bones are a 'snapshot' of a day in the life—and death—of Majungatholus."

Unfortunately, concluded Rogers, "we don't know whether Majungatholus killed both of the individuals in our sample, or opportunistically scavenged their remains." However, there is a good indication that Majungatholus lived during hard times.

In the Late Cretaceous Madagascar was characterized by a seasonal and semi-arid climate, much like that of Madagascar today. The ancient environment saw dramatic fluctuations in essential resources such as food and water, which apparently led to mass die-offs among animal populations. According to Rogers, Majungatholus may have scavenged from the carcasses of its own dead in order to deal with dire nutritional needs in times of environmental stress. "It appears as though Majungatholus atopus exploited all available resources during stressful episodes, even if it meant dining on members of its own species."


NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official NSF news electronically through the e-mail delivery system, NSFnews. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to In the body of the message, type "subscribe nsfnews" and then type your name. (Ex.: "subscribe nsfnews John Smith")

Useful Web Sites:
NSF Home Page:
News Highlights:
Science Statistics:
Awards Searches:



National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
FIRS: 800-877-8339 | TDD: 703-292-5090

NSF Logo Graphic