Imagine yourself walking through a dense forest 165 million years ago. You hear a distant rustling, and as you venture deeper into the Jurassic wilderness, a towering figure emerges from the shadows. It’s the Megalosaurus, a predator that ruled the Earth long before mankind’s dominance.
Megalosaurus is the “original” carnivorous dinosaur. This dinosaur was the first to be described scientifically, and Megalosaurus has been fascinating researchers ever since. The name “Megalosaurus” literally means “great lizard,” and what a fitting name it is. Megalosaurus was about 6 meters (20 ft) long, weighing about 700 kilograms (1,500 lb). It was bipedal, muscular, and was probably the apex predator of its day. But that’s not all that’s interesting about it.
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The Megalosaurus Dinosaur
Megalosaurus was one of the giant dinosaurs that once roamed our planet. There were multiple species of Megalosaurus, all of which were fierce predators — true Jurassic killers. Megalosaurus would have likely hunted stegosaurs and sauropods — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
A Historical Find
Back in 1824, a paleontologist stumbled upon a jawbone in Oxfordshire, England. William Buckland, the paleontologist, couldn’t have known the impact his discovery would have on science. This fragment heralded the dawn of a new understanding of Earth’s history.
Initially, megalosaurus was originally reconstructed as a striding quadrupedal lizard. It was later understood to be something entirely different: a theropod, a subgroup of carnivorous dinosaurs closely related to birds.
It wasn’t easy for early paleontologists to try and understand what this dinosaur was like — it’s not easy now. Imagine trying to piece together a complex puzzle with only a few fragments. That’s what early paleontologists faced, and it was the Megalosaurus that provided the first pieces. But even today, the Megalosaurus skeleton is only partially known, from a few bones.
Still, it’s remarkable that early paleontologists were able to draw some scientific conclusions. By 1827, the first illustrations of this creature were sketched, and the first species was named. This was 200 years ago, and they were doing paleontological research during a time when people didn’t have a word for dinosaurs. The discovery of Megalosaurus challenged prevailing thoughts of the time and became a cornerstone in the nascent field of paleontology.
But the early history of Megalosaurus discovery goes even further — and features some pretty unusual episodes.
In 1699, Welsh naturalist Edward Lhuyd described what he believed to have been a fish tooth. The fossil was then thought to be a bullet-like animal called a belemnite, but is now considered to be a tooth crown that belonged to an unknown species of Megalosaurus.
But a funny story happened with a different fossil. Early paleontologists found the lower part of a Megalosaurus femur. Initially, the bone was thought to be the thigh bone of a Roman war elephant. Then it was classed as the bone from a mythical, biblical giant. The fossil was even featured in a 1677 booklet called the History of Oxfordshire, where it featured the caption “scrotum humanum” — or “human testicles.” However, this name could have stemmed from an illustration error, not a naming from naturalists.
The bone has since been lost, but the magazine still exists, and modern paleontologists are pretty certain this was a Megalosaurus femur — not a giant, nor its testicles.
The Dawn of Dinosaur Science
Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be described scientifically, paving the way for what would become an entirely new branch of biology. The term “Dinosauria” was coined in 1842 by Sir Richard Owen, partly based on his studies of Megalosaurus.
“The term Dinosauria, meaning ‘terrible lizard’, was conceived by the British palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen almost 200 years ago for fossils found in England,” said Dean Lomax, a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, on publishing a book in 2014. Sadly, when most people are asked to name a dinosaur, the chances are they would give a foreign example, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, even though the British Isles was a veritable dinosaur paradise.
However, the dinosaur was initially reconstructed as a quadruped. The first analysis of Megalosaurus fossils claimed the dinosaur was an amphibian, an animal capable of both swimming in the sea and walking on land. These confusions stemmed from the lack of fossils, and also because it was difficult for them to assess whether other fossils also came from Megalosaurus. Nonetheless, the early research of Megalosaurus paved the way for what eventually became the burgeoning field of dinosaur paleontology.
While this dinosaur isn’t as iconic among most people as T-Rex or the triceratops, it is without a doubt one of the most impactful dinosaurs in paleontological research.
Rediscovering a dinosaur giant
Modern research is also shedding new light on Megalosaurus. In fact, a 2017 study reanalyzed a jawbone from the earliest named dinosaur. Professor Mark Williams at the University of Warwick used state-of-the-art CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software to snap over 3000 X-ray images of the world-famous Megalosaurus jawbone. With this, Williams created a digital three-dimensional image of the fossil.
Thanks to this cutting-edge technology, the researchers were able to gain better insights into what the jaw and teeth looked like.
“Being able to use state-of-the-art technology normally reserved for aerospace and automotive engineering to scan such a rare and iconic natural history specimen was a fantastic opportunity,” said Williams at the time. “When I was growing up I was fascinated with dinosaurs and clearly remember seeing pictures of the Megalosaurus jaw in books that I read. Having access to and scanning the real thing was an incredible experience.”
Megalosaurus Size and Other Facts
The Megalosaurus, an apex predator of its time, first stood out through its size. But it wasn’t just big — it was also a skilled hunter.
A Colossal Hunter of the Jurassic
The Megalosaurus dwarfed many modern animals. Standing approximately 10 feet tall at the hips and stretching up to 30 feet in length, it was undoubtedly one of the most imposing creatures of its era. Imagine a double-decker bus. The Megalosaurus was roughly that long, a creature of enormous proportions prowling the prehistoric landscapes.
In general, Megalosaurus had the typical build of a large theropod — the group of dinosaurs that also includes T-Rex. It walked on its two back legs, with long hind limbs and strong, forward-facing toes. The forelimbs were relatively short, also like T-Rex, but more robust and capable. The skeleton indicates an overall robust and muscular animal.
A Closer Look at the Anatomy
The skull of Megalosaurus is, unfortunately, poorly understood. Still, the skull fossils that have been found suggest a large cranium with powerful teeth.
Its large, robust head housed an array of sharp, serrated teeth, perfect for gripping prey and tearing through flesh. These weren’t just simple chompers; they were precision tools of a seasoned predator.
- Name Origin: Derived from Greek, meaning “great lizard.”
- Discovery: First scientifically described in 1824 by William Buckland.
- Classification: Belongs to the theropod group, closely related to birds.
- Era: Lived during the Middle Jurassic Period, around 165 million years ago.
- Location: Fossils are mainly found in England, with some spread across Europe.
- Size: Approximately 30 feet in length and 10 feet tall at the hips.
- Weight: Estimated to weigh between 1 to 2 tons.
- Diet: Carnivorous, preying on other dinosaurs and possibly scavenging.
- Teeth: Equipped with sharp, serrated teeth designed for tearing flesh.
- Legs: Muscular and built for running, with clawed toes for grip.
- Arms: Shorter than legs, with three clawed fingers, possibly used for grasping.
- Tail: Long and agile, aiding in balance and quick turns.
- Skin: Exact appearance unknown, but may have had feathers or feather-like structures.
- Cultural Impact: One of the first dinosaurs to enter public awareness, with influence on literature, art, and science.
- Legacy: This represents a significant chapter in paleontology, shaping our understanding of prehistoric life.
Megalosaurus in Popular Culture
The Megalosaurus has not just influenced science but has also permeated popular culture. From novels like Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” to modern representations in films and museums, this dinosaur has captured imaginations worldwide.
Picture a child standing before a towering replica of Megalosaurus in a museum, eyes wide with wonder. That’s the magic this dinosaur continues to weave.
“Megalosaurus” means “great lizard” in Greek, aptly describing this colossal creature.
Megalosaurus roamed the Earth during the Middle Jurassic Period, around 165 million years ago.
The fossils of Megalosaurus have mainly been found in England, though they may have roamed across parts of Europe as well.
The Megalosaurus stood around 10 feet tall at the hips and measured up to 30 feet in length.
As a carnivorous predator, Megalosaurus likely hunted other dinosaurs and possibly scavenged as well.
While the exact appearance of Megalosaurus’ skin remains uncertain, some scientists believe it may have had feathers or feather-like structures.
Megalosaurus is classified as a theropod, a subgroup of carnivorous dinosaurs that are closely related to modern birds.
Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be scientifically described, making it a cornerstone in paleontological history and playing a crucial role in the development of the field.
The sharp, serrated teeth of Megalosaurus indicate that it was a predator, designed for tearing flesh, which tells us about its carnivorous diet and predatory behavior.
Yes, Megalosaurus has permeated popular culture, appearing in literature such as Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” and in various museum displays and films.
Scientists study Megalosaurus through the analysis of fossils, including bones, teeth, and footprints, along with comparing it with other theropod dinosaurs and modern animals to understand its physiology and behavior. They also use modern tools like X-Ray to create digital representations of dinosaur fossils and analyze them in more detail.
The exact coloration of Megalosaurus is unknown, and it’s a subject of speculation. Some believe it could have had camouflage patterns to aid in hunting.
Megalosaurus fossils provide vital clues about the Jurassic environment, including the food chain, climate, vegetation, and interactions with other organisms.
There’s no specific evidence to suggest that Megalosaurus was adapted to swimming. However, like many large predators, it might have been capable of wading through shallow waters.
Of course, there are plenty more questions about Megalosaurus — paleontologists are working on it.
The Significance of the Great Lizard
The discovery and study of Megalosaurus have shaped not just paleontology but our broader understanding of life on Earth. It broke barriers and fostered collaboration among various scientific disciplines, prompting biologists and geologists to think about the magnificent creatures that once roamed the land.
We’ve been studying Megalosaurus for 200 years, but we’re only starting to understand this fearsome creature. There’s no telling what future research will uncover.
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