Temporal range: Late Cretaceous, 76.7Ma
|Skull, Royal Ontario Museum|
Horner & Makela, 1979
Horner & Makela, 1979
Maiasaura (from the Greek "μαία + σαύρα", meaning "caring mother lizard") is a large duck-billed dinosaur genus that lived in the area currently covered by the state of Montana in the Upper Cretaceous Period (mid to late Campanian), about 76.7 million years ago.
Maiasaura was large, attaining an adult length of about 9 metres (30 ft) and had the typical hadrosaurid flat beak and a thick nose. It had a small, spiky crest in front of its eyes. The crest may have been used in headbutting contests between males during the breeding season.
This dinosaur was herbivorous. It walked both on two (bipedal) or four (quadrupedal) legs and appeared to have no defense against predators, except, perhaps, its heavy muscular tail and its herd behaviour. These herds were extremely large and could have comprised as many as 10,000 individuals. Maiasaura lived in an inland habitat.
Maiasaura was discovered by Laurie Trexler and described by dinosaur paleontologist Jack Horner and Robert Makela. He named the dinosaur after Marion Brandvold's discovery of a nest with remains of eggshells and babies too large to be hatchlings. These discoveries led to others, and the area became known as "Egg Mountain", in rocks of the Two Medicine Formation near Choteau in western Montana. This was the first proof of giant dinosaurs raising and feeding their young. Over 200 specimens, in all age ranges, have been found. The announcement of Maiasaura's discovery attracted renewed scientific interest to the Two Medicine Formation and many other new kinds of dinosaurs were discovered as a result of the increased attention. Choteau Maiasaura remains are found in higher strata than their Two Medicine River counterparts.
Maiasaura lived in herds and it raised its young in nesting colonies. The nests in the colonies were packed closely together, like those of modern seabirds, with the gap between the nests being around 7 metres (23 ft); less than the length of the adult animal. The nests were made of earth and contained 30 to 40 eggs laid in a circular or spiral pattern. The eggs were about the size of ostrich eggs.
The eggs were incubated by the heat resulting from rotting vegetation placed into the nest by the parents, rather than a parent sitting on the nest. Upon hatching, fossils of baby Maiasaura show that their legs were not fully developed and thus they were incapable of walking. Fossils also show that their teeth were partly worn, which means that the adults brought food to the nest.
The hatchlings grew from a size of 16 to 58 inches (41 to 147 cm) long in the span of their first year. At this point, or perhaps after another year, the animal left the nest. This high rate of growth may be evidence of warm bloodedness. The hatchlings had different facial proportions from the adults, with larger eyes and a shorter snout. These features are associated with cuteness and are common among animals that are dependent on their parents for survival during the early stages of life.
Maiasaura is a characteristic fossil of the middle portion (lithofacies 4) of the Two Medicine Formation, dated to about 76.4 million years ago. Maiasaura lived alongside the troodontid Troodon and the hypsilophodont Orodromeus, as well as the dromaeosaurid Bambiraptor. Another species of hadrosaurids, referable to the genus Hypacrosaurus, coexisted with Maiasaura for some time, as Hypacrosaurus remains have been found lower in the Two Medicine Formation than was earlier known. The discovery of and additional hadrosaurid Gryposaurus latidens, in the same range as Maiasaura has shown that the border between hypothesized distinct faunas in the upper and middle is less distinct than once thought. There seems to be a major diversification in ornithischian taxa after the appearance of Maiasaura within the Two Medicine Formation. The thorough examination of strata found along the Two Medicine River (which exposes the entire upper half of the Two Medicine Formation) indicates that the apparent diversification was a real event rather than a result of preservational biases. While Maiasaura has historically been associated with the Two Medicine formation ceratopsid Einiosaurus in a single fauna, this is inaccurate, as Maisaura is known exclusively from older strata.
- Horner, J. R., Schmitt, J. G., Jackson, F., & Hanna, R. (2001). Bones and rocks of the Upper Cretaceous Two Medicine-Judith River clastic wedge complex, Montana. In Field trip guidebook, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 61st Annual Meeting: Mesozoic and Cenozoic Paleontology in the Western Plains and Rocky Mountains. Museum of the Rockies Occasional Paper (Vol. 3, pp. 3-14).
- "Maiasaura," Dodson, et al.(1994); pages 116-117.
- "Judithian Climax," Lehman (2001); page 315.
- Horner and Gorman (1988).
- "Introduction," Trexler (2001); pages 299-300.
- "Faunal Turnover, Migration, and Evolution," Trexler (2001); page 304.
- Palmer (1999); page 148.
- "Faunal Turnover, Migration, and Evolution," Trexler (2001); page 306.
- Sullivan, R. M., & Lucas, S. G. (2006). "The Kirtlandian land-vertebrate “age”–faunal composition, temporal position and biostratigraphic correlation in the nonmarine Upper Cretaceous of western North America." New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin, 35: 7-29.
- Dodson, Peter & Britt, Brooks & Carpenter, Kenneth & Forster, Catherine A. & Gillette, David D. & Norell, Mark A. & Olshevsky, George & Parrish, J. Michael & Weishampel, David B. The Age of Dinosaurs. Publications International, LTD. p. 116-117. ISBN 0-7853-0443-6.
- Horner, Jack and Gorman, James. (1988). Digging Dinosaurs: The Search that Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs, Workman Publishing Co.
- Lehman, T. M., 2001, Late Cretaceous dinosaur provinciality: In: Mesozoic Vertebrate Life, edited by Tanke, D. H., and Carpenter, K., Indiana University Press, pp. 310-328.
- Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 148. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.
- Trexler, D., 2001, Two Medicine Formation, Montana: geology and fauna: In: Mesozoic Vertebrate Life, edited by Tanke, D. H., and Carpenter, K., Indiana University Press, pp. 298-309.