An Ultimate Guide to Majungasaurus: The Mahajanga Lizard

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Name MeaningMahajanga LizardHeight3.5 meters (11.4 feet)
PronunciationMah-jung-ah-sore-usLength5.6-7 meters (18-23 feet)
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight750-1,100 kg (1,653-2,425 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ ‬Saurischia & TheropodaLocationMadagascar, Africa

Majungasaurus Pictures

Majungasaurus | leonello via GettyImages

The Majungasaurus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Majungasaurus Concept

The Majungasaurus is a dinosaur genus with a single species, Majungasaurus crenatissimus.

It roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous epoch.

More precisely, it lived around 70-66 million years ago, during the Maastrichtian age.

Scientists think it was the latest non-avian dinosaur that disappeared during the well-known Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, as some teeth belonging to it are believed to belong to the end of the Maastrichtian when all non-avian dinosaurs had already disappeared.

Also called the Mahajanga lizards, these dinosaurs are part of the Theropoda clade and are further classified into the Abelisauridae family.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

They’re known to be bipedal predators with very short forelimbs and long, stocky hindlimbs.

Thanks to numerous fossil discoveries, especially those that contributed to skull reconstruction, this dinosaur species is now one of the world’s most well-studied species, thus highly contributing to paleontological research.

Moreover, Majungasaurus is one of the few dinosaur species whose fossils show evidence of cannibalism.

As such, studying its history, behavior, and reproduction outlines an important missing piece of our world’s evolution.

Physical Characteristics

Majungasaurus | CoreyFord via GettyImages

Besides being renowned for its small, single horn on the head, the Majungasaurus was of remarkable size.

Scientists estimate that the dinosaurs were approximately 3.5 meters (11.4 feet) tall and around 5.6-7 meters (18-23 feet) long, although fossil discoveries show that some might have grown longer than 8 meters (26.2 feet).

Moreover, it could weigh as much as 750-1,100 kilograms (1,653-2,425 pounds).

As already mentioned, the discovered skull fossils played a major role in studying this species, leading to the reconstruction of one of the most studied and well-outlined theropod skulls.

The Majungasaurus had a typical abelisaurid skull – it was tall, had a rounded snout, and was transversely broad.

However, the snout was much rounder than in other abelisaurids.

By comparison, other theropods had rather elongated, transversely compressed skulls featuring narrow snouts.

Another thing the Majungasaurus skull has in common with other abelisaurid species is that the outside faces of the skull bones exhibit a rough texture, especially on the nasal bones, which feature a central ridge.

The Majungasaurus teeth were also abelisaurid-typical – the dinosaur had short-crowned dentitions.

One difference is that the species we’re discussing today had the highest number of teeth among all abelisaurids except the Rugops – seventeen teeth on the lower jaw dentary and upper jaw maxilla.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Majungasaurus Size Comparison
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Majungasaurus Size Comparison

As such, studying the skull structure is of utmost importance for describing the Majungasaurus.

It not only provides data for the overall appearance of the dinosaur but also offers excellent insight regarding its predation techniques and the types of prey it hunted, which we’ll discuss further.

As for the rest of the body, the Majungasaurus was similar to the Aucasaurus and Carnotaurus.

Apart from the fact that it was bipedal, specialists confirmed that the species had a robust appearance.

At the same time, the ossified tendons gave it the forked appearance we can spot in Carnotaurus specimens as well.

Moreover, the dinosaur had a long, strong neck and a long tail used to balance the head and torso.

The forelimbs were very short and featured four digits and no claws.

Scientists believe that the limbs were immobile.

The hindlimbs were strong but short and stout and featured three functional digits.

One interesting Majungasaurus characteristic is that its body is excellent at reducing weight.

We know this sounds a bit odd, but it’s true!

Did you know that its cervical vertebrae exhibited multiple cavities aimed at reducing weight?

What about the fact that the frontal horn and the nasal structure had hollow sinus cavities for the same reason?

Habitat and Distribution

Paleontological discoveries show that the Majungasaurus was, most probably, a resident of the Mahajanga Province of Madagascar, more precisely, the Maevarano Formation.

Madagascar was an island 70 million years ago and featured a semi-arid climate with seasonal temperature changes.

Studies show that the Majungasaurus inhabited the expansive floodplains of the Mahajanga Basin.

The habitat was believed to have been crossed by sandy river channels.

These, in turn, brought periodic debris flows that contributed to fossil preservation.

The Mahajanga lizard might have also inhabited tidal flats and other environments alike.

Behavior and Diet

Majungasaurus 3D illustration | Warpaintcobra via GettyImages

The Majungasaurus was likely an apex predator in its habitat.

Scientists believe it preferred hunting sauropods, as its bite-and-hold attacking technique was the most efficient against sauropods.

Moreover, the Majungasaurus were slow-moving creatures.

First, their stout hind legs prevented them from moving too fast.

Another indicator that the Majungasaurus moved slowly is its flocculus size, a cerebellum lobe that facilitates eye and head movement coordination.

The Majungasaurus flocculus was smaller than that of other theropods, and, thus, it couldn’t react quickly to prey as it relied only on slow head movements.

Therefore, since sauropods were slow-moving, too, it’s no wonder they served as the main prey for the Majungasaurus.

However, it seems that sauropods weren’t the only dietary choice of a Majungasaurus.

Studies based on bones bearing tooth marks show that these dinosaurs preyed on their siblings.

This discovery makes the species the only non-avian theropod engaged in cannibalistic behavior.

It was previously thought that the Coelophysis theropod was a cannibal as well, but recent studies disprove the assumption.

While other theropods relied on hunting and killing strategies similar to those of narrow-snouted canids, meaning that they delivered multiple bites until prey became weak, the Majungasaurus attack technique was similar to that of felids.

This means that they bit once and held onto prey until it was subdued – something called a bite-and-hold technique, which we mentioned earlier.

Life Cycle

Majungasaurus | leonello via GettyImages

The Majungasaurus is thought to be one of the world’s slowest-growing theropods.

Studies show that these creatures took around twenty years to mature into adults.

Scientists believe their harsh habitat enhanced the slow growth of this particular species, although abelisaurids are considered a slow-growing group of dinosaurs.

Some studies indicate that young and adult Majungasaurus specimens might have had different diets and feeding behaviors.

skull of majungasaurus
Majungasaurus Skull in Field Museum of Natural History | James St. John via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

The research was based on studying the way cranial bones and articulated skulls changed shape.

In terms of reproduction, while many studies focus on theropod reproduction, little is known about the Majungasaurus specifically.

However, we can assume that the dinosaurs we’re discussing today had a typical theropod reproductive system.

Males had a retractable penis and internal testes, while females had paired ovaries and oviducts.

The eggs that awaited fertilization were stored in a system similar to that of crocodilians.

The fertilization likely happened through the cloaca.

On the other hand, although scientists assume that theropods had cloaca (based on the physiology of their close relatives – primitive crocodilians and birds originating from theropods), they aren’t 100% sure of this.

Upon fertilization, theropods presumably laid 1-2 dozen eggs.

Evolution and History

Majungasaurus dinosaur, full body photorealistic representation
Majungasaurus dinosaur, full body photorealistic representation | leonello via GettyImages

The first fossil recoveries linked to Majungasaurus occurred in 1896 in northwestern Madagascar along the Betsiboka River.

A French army officer discovered two teeth, some vertebrae, and a claw, thought to have belonged to theropods – more precisely, to the Megalosaurus genus.

Later, they were put into the Dryptosaurus genus.

The next 100 years were abundant in fossil discoveries linked to what we now call the Majungasaurus.

During this time, the species was thought to be a Pachycephalosaurus.

In 1993, a series of paleontological expeditions would end with thousands of newly discovered fossils that belonged to the dinosaurs in this genus.

Mounted skeleton (cast) of Majungasaurus crenatissimus
Mounted skeleton (cast) of Majungasaurus crenatissimus, Stony Brook University. | Skye McDavid via Wikipedia CC BY 4.0

Three years later, paleontologists found a complete theropod skull with characteristics similar to the newly discovered species.

The discovery convinced scientists that the skull belonged to an abelisaurid rather than a Pachycephalosaurus.

Considering the fact that Majungasaurus skulls are very similar to those of other abelisaurids, it’s no wonder scientists came to this conclusion, especially since other discoveries led to an almost complete skeleton reconstruction that further confirmed this.

While it was previously thought that the Majungasaurus was closely related to Carnotaurus and other creatures alike, it is now in the same subfamily as the Rajasaurus, Indosaurus, and Arcovenator.

Interactions with Other Species

Majungasaurus found a prey in the cliff
Majungasaurus found a prey in the cliff | Daniel Eskridge via GettyImages

The Majungasaurus was thought to live in the same habitat as the following animals:

  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Seven crocodylomorph species, including the Mahajangasuchus and Trematochampsa
  • Five mammal species
  • Birds like Vorona
  • Rahonavis dromaeosaurid
  • Masiakasaurus noasaurid
  • Two titanosaurian sauropods, one being the Rapetosaurus

As we’ve already established, the Majungasaurus was a carnivore and an apex predator.

It preyed on sauropods and likely engaged in cannibalistic behavior.

Thanks to their size, they were the ecosystem’s largest carnivores and had an “upper hand” against any other species.

However, close to water, these large abelisaurids might’ve had crocodylomorphs as competitors.

Cultural Significance

majungasaurus in jurassic world
Magunasaurus in Jurassic World Evolution 2 | Cyrannian via Jurassic World Evolution Wiki

While the Majungasaurus isn’t as popular in the movie, game, and book industries as other dinosaur species, it still makes an important appearance in the Jurassic World universe, especially in the following games:

  • Jurassic Park III: Park Builder
  • Jurassic World: The Game (depicted wrongly as having only two digits instead of four; moreover, they were much larger compared to the typical small Majungasaurus digits)
  • Jurassic World: Alive
  • Jurassic World: Evolution
  • Jurassic World: Evolution 2

However, despite the species not being as popular as the T-Rex, for example, in the entertainment industry, people are still well acquainted with the cannibal dinosaur, sometimes referred to as the “Hannibal Lector of the Mesozoic.”

The species is now subject to numerous scientific research papers.

After all, it serves as a major starting point for describing carnivorous dinosaurs, especially those with cannibalistic behavior.

Moreover, many studies focusing on the Majungasaurus respiratory system contribute to the evolution of respiratory biology, especially the avian respiratory system, thus equipping scientists with evidence of bird origins.


The discovery of Majungasaurus fossils changed the shape of evolutionary history, especially that of the theropod family.

Thousands of fossils that contributed to an almost complete skeleton reconstruction provided unique insight into the world of Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous period, around 70-66 million years ago.

As such, paleontological research showed that Majungasaurus was a slow-moving apex predator that preyed on sauropods.

Moreover, it likely engaged in cannibalistic behavior, as well.

It was a bipedal, non-avian dinosaur with very small, inflexible forelimbs.

Its skull was similar to that of other abelisaurids, although it was much wider, and the snout was much rounder.

Although it’s one of the world’s most studied dinosaurs, much is yet to be discovered about the famous Majungasaurus!


Is Majungasaurus a Tyrannosaurus?

The Majungasaurus is not a Tyrannosaurus.

Both are theropods in the Theropoda clade but are further divided into different subfamilies: the Majungasaurus is part of the Abelisauridae family, while the Tyrannosaurus is a genus in the Tyrannosauridae family.

Is Majungasaurus related to Carnotaurus?

The Majungasaurus is related to the Carnotaurus, as they’re part of the same family, Abelisauridae.

However, they are further divided into different subfamilies, the former being in the Majungasaurinae subfamily, while the latter is in the Carnotaurinae subfamily.

How Fast Was Majungasaurus?

The Majungasaurus was a slow-moving dinosaur. Some sources list 15 miles per hour as its maximum running speed, although no scientific evidence confirms this.

What Bite Force Did Majungasaurus Have?

Studies show that the Majungasaurus had a bite force of 7,845 N. The results are based on a reconstructed skull measuring 300 mm in width.


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