Massospondylus was one of the first herbivorous dinosaurs to appear on land. It had a small head and a long neck and tail. By tilting back on its hind legs, it could reach shoots and leaves at the top of tall trees.
The first Massospondylus specimen to be found consisted of a few broken vertebrae shipped to Sir Richard Owen, in London, from South Africa in 1854. Since then, the skeletons of more than 80 individuals have been found across southern Africa. There has even been a nest of six eggs found that have been attributed to Massospondylus. Another possible specimen has been found in Arizona, which may indicate that this was a very widespread animal.
Name: Massospondylus, meaning ‘massive vertebra’
Size: 4m long
Food: plants and leaves from trees
Lived: about 200-180 million years ago in the Early Jurassic Period in southern Africa and North America
Massospondylus‘ teeth are large, some serrated and some flat. It is usually shown as a much more slender animal than other prosauropods of the same size. It has five fingers, but the fourth and fifth are very small. The huge, clawed first finger could be curved over, thumb-wise, across the second and third, making this a versatile hand.
When this dinosaur was discovered, small pebbles were found by its ribcage. Experts think Massospondylus may have swallowed these stones to help it digest its food. When food was swallowed, it was ground down by the stones. They worked like the blades of a food mixer to mash the leaves into a thick, mushy soup so that the dinosaur was able to absorb all the nutrients its large body needed.
To defend itself, Massospondylus had a huge thumb with a long, curved claw. Together with the second and third fingers, the thumb may also have been used for grasping things. The other two fingers were small and weak.