- Name meaning:
- 'big lizard'
- Type of dinosaur:
- large theropod
Megalosaurus was a large, meat-eating dinosaur. It was one of the first dinosaurs ever found and the first named.
When and where was Megalosaurus found?
When Megalosaurus fossils were first discovered during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nobody knew what a dinosaur was.
From time to time, somebody would find something unusual and not know what to make of it. Items such as a single tooth, part of a leg bone and then a piece of the lower jaw were found, puzzled over and speculated about. All these specimens were discovered around Oxfordshire, England.
People found even more mysterious bones in the early 1800s, but it wasn't until around 1818 that William Buckland - a professor from the University of Oxford - began to study the remains in detail.
With the help of other scientists including the famous French expert Georges Cuvier, Buckland came to think that the extinct animal might have been a huge lizard that walked on four legs, almost like an oversized iguana. Yet even 200 years ago, he was quick to work out that the animal walked on straight legs, rather than with its legs sprawled out like a lizard.
Many years later the first fossils of bipedal dinosaurs were discovered, making it clear that Megalosaurus walked on two legs. A complete Megalosaurus skeleton has yet to be found.
How was Megalosaurus named?
In 1824, Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur in history given a name. In fact, it was named before the word 'dinosaur' had even been invented. That didn't happen until 1842, almost twenty years later.
Because it was one of the first dinosaurs ever found, many new fossil discoveries over the years have been said to belong to Megalosaurus. At one point, scientists thought there were lots of species of Megalosaurus - more than any other dinosaur.
But science has advanced. We can now be much surer about which fossils are Megalosaurus.
These days, we think there was only one species - Megalosaurus bucklandii. All the other misnamed fossil specimens have been reassigned to other dinosaurs.
How big was Megalosaurus?
Over the years, researchers have given many different size estimates for Megalosaurus.
In Victorian times, when nobody knew what the dinosaur really looked like, people thought it might have been 20 metres long. That's huge - almost as long as a tennis court!
As more discoveries were made, scientists started to get a better idea of Megalosaurus' true size. Our founder Richard Owen gave a smaller estimate of nine metres long in 1842.
Today, experts think it was more likely to have been around six metres long.
So even though the name Megalosaurus means 'big lizard', this dinosaur wasn't huge by Jurassic theropod standards.
Allosaurus was probably bigger, at around nine metres long. Saurophaganax - which some researchers think might have been the same dinosaur as Allosaurus - could have reached 10.5 metres in length.
When did Megalosaurus go extinct?
Megalosaurus lived during the Bathonian Age - a stretch of time midway through the Middle Jurassic Period, around 168-165 million years ago.
No Megalosaurus fossils have been found in rocks from any other geological age. As far as we can tell, the dinosaur may have been extinct by the end of the Bathonian.
Historically, artists have often portrayed Megalosaurus together with Iguanodon, as the two dinosaurs were among the earliest discovered. But they didn't live at the same time. Megalosaurus would have been extinct by the time Iguanodon appeared in the Early Cretaceous.
Did Megalosaurus have feathers?
We don't know for sure if Megalosaurus had feathers.
Evidence of feathers has been found in a potentially related dinosaur called Sciurumimus, which may mean that Megalosaurus had some too.
Some experts now think that the two dinosaurs weren't as closely related as we first thought. It's very hard to say.
Megalosaurus in popular culture
Megalosaurus has captured the public imagination over the years. It has featured in many unusual places.
Charles Dickens mentioned the dinosaur in the very first paragraph of his 1852-1853 novel Bleak House. Dickens described a fanciful image of a gigantic, slow Megalosaurus plodding along a London street.
The Victorian sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins created several huge statues of prehistoric animals, including Megalosaurus, for the Crystal Palace gardens in 1854.
The Crystal Palace statues now look very outdated as they show Megalosaurus and other extinct creatures as bulky, lumbering beasts. Even so, they are important historic structures. They can still be seen in the gardens.
Megalosaurus has continued to feature in various places in more recent times.
In 2013, the carnivore appeared on limited edition Royal Mail stamps. Then in 2020, we collaborated with the Royal Mint and dinosaur artist Bob Nicholls to feature Megalosaurus in a special set of fifty pence coins.
- Dinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda, Megalosauridae, Megalosaurinae
- Named by:
- Mantell (1827)
- Type species: