Megalosaurus was the first ever recognised dinosaur. A jawbone and teeth were recovered from from Oxford, England in 1676. Physician James Parkinson described them in an article from 1822, regarding their study by William Buckland - the famous pioneer of paleontology. Two years later, Buckland published his own complete account of his studies, and it is from him that the great Gideon Mantell gave the first species of dinosaur its name in 1827: Megalosaurus bucklandi ("Buckland's big lizard"!). It is perhaps difficult for us to imagine the significance of this discovery. Never before had it even been imagined that their had existed animals extinct before the advent of mankind. Even the oft-used analogy of "discovering extra-terrestrial life" is not sufficiently powerful - prehistoric animals had not even been conceived of before 1822.
Since those first finds, we have recovered many bones from Megalosaurus but still no complete skeleton has been found. Therefore we cannot be certain of Megalosaurus' detailed physical appearance. Early paleontologists, having never seen such a creature before, restored in like the dragons of popular mythology - a huge head and walking on all fours. It was not until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, when other theropods began to be discovered in North America, that a more accurate picture was developed. Some confusion still exists, for at one time (before classification of dinosaurs became the serious business it is today) all theropods from Europe were given the title Megalosaurus. Since then, these have been mostly reclassified but certainly older papers are often the cause of some confusion. For furthur confusion, the most reproduced anatomy diagram of Megalosaurus' skeleton was produced before any vertebrae had been recovered. While drawing it, Friedrich von Huene of the University of Tubingeng, Germany, instead used the backbones of Altispinax - a spinosaur! Hence many later drawings based on his original show Megalosaurus with a deep spinal ridge or even a small sail like that of Spinosaurus.
In fact, Megalosaurus did have a relatively large head and the teeth were clearly that of a carnivore. However, the long tail would have balanced the body and head and so Megalosaurus is now restored as a bipedal beast like all other theropods, and about nine metres in length. The structure of the cervical vertebrae suggests that its neck would have been very flexible. To support its weight of around one tonne, the legs were large and muscular. Like all theropods, it had three forward facing toes and a single reversed one. Although they had not reached the miniscule size of later theropods like Tyrannosaurus, Megalosaurus' arms were small and probably had three of four fingers.
Living in what is now Europe and Africa, and during the Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods (181 to 169 million years ago), Megalosaurus would probably have hunted Iguanadon (another of the earliest dinosaurs named) through the forests that then covered the continent.
Although Megalosaurus was a powerful carnivore and could probably have attacked even the largest of sauropods, it is also likely that it gained some of its food by scavenging. That is not to detract from its prowess as a hunter - Tyrannosaurus did much the same! Effeciency was necessary to feed such a large body.
Since M. bucklandi
, at least two further species of Megalosaurus have been named. Zhao named M. dabukaensis
in 1985 and H. P. Powell & Pickering added M. phillipsi