Temporal range: Upper Cretaceous
Turner et al., 2007
Mahakala was a small dromaeosaur, about 70 centimeters long (28 in). Its skeleton shows some features which are also found in early troodontids and avialans. However, its short forearms rule it out of the Alialae.
It had a typical dromaeosaurid form of the second toe, with an expanded claw. Mahakala also had very short forelimbs compared to other Dromaeosaurs.
A phylogenetic analysis performed by Turner and colleagues, who described the specimen, found Mahakala to be the most basal known dromaeosaur. Their results, along with the small size of other theropods found at the base of paravian lineages, suggest that small size was not an innovation of early birds, but a common trait of early paravians.
In evolution, small size would have come before flight. Like birds, troodonts and dromaeosaurs did not keep small size throughout their evolutionary history. They had several separate size increases among different lineages.
Mahakala also shows a combination of characteristics found among basal troodonts and birds, and is missing some that are present in more derived (specialised) dromaeosaurs.
Paleoecology and paleobiologyEdit
The paleoenvironment had a semiarid climate, with sand dunes and alluvium (loose stuff). The semiarid steppe landscape was drained by streams after rain, and was affected by dust and sandstorms. Rainfall was low, and seasonal.
Animals present included terrestrial turtles and crocodilians, lizards, mammals, and a variety of dinosaurs; aquatic animals like fish were not present. The majority of the fauna was small to medium-sized.
Small coelurosaurians are the most diverse dinosaurs, including fellow dromaeosaurid Velociraptor, troodonts Byronosaurus and Saurornithoides, oviraptors Citipati, Khaan, and Oviraptor, and alvarezsaurs Mononykus and Shuvuuia; other dinosaurs present included the ceratopsian Protoceratops and the ankylosaur Pinacosaurus. Like other dromaeosaurs, Mahakala would have been a small, active, predaceous carnivore.
- from Sanskrit, named after one of eight protector deities (dharmapalas) in Tibetan Buddhism
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