A Rockin' Dinosaur

A research team from the University of Utah have discovered bones of a strange hook-toothed dinosaur about the size of a German Shepherd and named it after Dire Straits guitarist and singer Mark Knopfler.

The scientists said they chose the guitarist and songwriter from Dire Straits because they listened to a lot of the group's music while digging under the hot tropical sun on the island of Madagascar.

The bones of the small dinosaur, which is about the size of a German shepherd, were discovered by a team of researchers led by University of Utah paleontologist Scott Sampson.

The island off the southeastern coast of Africa already has yielded some extraordinary fossil finds, but the latest discovery appears unique in the dinosaur world of the late Cretaceous period, about 65 million to 70 million years ago.

"We know it had strange and bizarre teeth, the strangest of any dinosaur," Sampson said. "The teeth at front are weird. They're long and conical with hooked tips. They protrude straight forward, so it might be easier to catch fish, but it might be used to spear insects or some other animal."

The dinosaur, christened Masiakasaurus knopfleri (pronounced mah-SHEE-kah-sawr-us nawp-FLAIR-ee), appears to be related to other fossils found in Argentina and India, suggesting that Madagascar was connected to the ancient "supercontinent" of Gondwana for longer than previously believed.

"This really supports the whole Gondwana concept, that Madagascar drifted away from India and also from Africa," said Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech, an expert in dinosaur evolution.

The first part of the name for the new dinosaur is derived from "masiaka," the Malagasy word for "vicious."

Knopfler said through a spokeswoman that he considered it an honor to have a dinosaur named after him.

"I'm really delighted," he said. "The fact that it's a dinosaur is certainly apt, but I'm happy to report that I'm not in the least bit vicious."

The dinosaur was probably 5 to 6 feet long, most of it neck and tail, and it probably weighed about 80 pounds. It was probably as fast as a dog but ran on its hind legs like other meat-eating dinosaurs, Sampson said.

There is evidence its diet covered a broad range of prey, including fish, insects, lizards, snakes and ancient mammals, which were no bigger than a shrew, he said.

"The most important aspect of this animal is that it underscores the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, we still don't know everything about dinosaurs," Sampson said.

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