Megapnosaurus (formerly known as Syntarsus) was a small, speedy dinosaur. Some scientists think it might have been covered in feathers.
Megapnosaurus fed on lizards, small mammals and flying insects. It ran quickly on its long back legs, like a huge bird, to chase its prey. It also needed to dart about to escape from large carnivorous dinosaurs.
More than 30 Megapnosaurus skeletons were found in a bonebed in Zimbabwe, suggesting that a pack was overwhelmed by a disaster such as a flash flood. The cololites, or stomach contents, suggest that they preyed on smaller vertebrates. Another species of Megapnosaurus, found in Arizona, has a pair of crests on the head, rather like those of Dilophosaurus but smaller.
Name: Megapnosaurus, meaning ‘big dead lizard’
Size: 2-3m long
Food: lizards, mammals and flying insects
Lived: about 205-195 million years ago in Zimbabwe, Africa, in the Late Triassic Period
The close similarity between Megapnosaurus and Coelophysis has led many to suggest that the two are actually the same genus, with three nimble fingers, a long neck and tail, strong hind legs and a slim body. There seem to have been two sizes of adult – the larger was probably the female and the smaller the male, judging by the size ranges in modern bird flocks. Computer reconstructions of the braincase of Syntarsus show it to be quite large compared with that of the earlier herrerasaurids, indicating an increase in intelligence. A bird-like cunning seems to have been evolving at this time.
On top of its wedge-shaped head was an odd crest. Megapnosaurus could probably turn its head quickly to snatch at its food and to watch for danger. Megapnosaurus had long arms ending in large hands with curved claws. Its tail was long and it held it up level with its body when moving at speed.
Some scientists have suggested that Megapnosaurus had feathers on its head and body. They think that it lifted them away from its body to let the air cool it down during the heat of the day. It could also lower the feathers close to its body to keep in the warmth during the cool evenings and night, using them as insulation. Other palaeontologists argue, however, that there is no proof for this and that Megapnosaurus had no feathers at all.