It weighed as much as a housecat and was as fierce as a Chihuahua.
Researchers have discovered, and reconstructed, a species of plant-eating mini-dinosaur with inch-long jaws and vampire-like fangs that thrived in Africa 200 million years ago.
Pegomastax africanus, or “thick jaw from Africa,” is the name of this newly discovered ankle-biter of dinosaurs. Measuring less than two feet from snout to tail, the vegetarian nonetheless wielded sharp, self-sharpening fangs and sported prickly porcupine-like quills atop its head and down its neck. It’s a “punk-sized” herbivore that numbers among a “menagerie of bizarre, tiny, fanged plant-eaters called heterodontosaurs, or ‘different toothed reptiles,’ ”—among the earliest dinosaurs to call Mother Earth home, according to a new study.
The discovery was profiled in the online journal ZooKeys on October 3, the result of an analysis by paleontologist and University of Chicago professor Paul Sereno. The specimen, the only one of its kind, was chipped out of red rock in southern Africa in the 1960s, according to a university statement. Sereno discovered it amid fossils housed at Harvard University.
The species was small but fierce, and able to defend itself, Sereno said in the statement from the University of Chicago. Its three-inch-long, parrot-shaped beak, stabbing canines and tall teeth tucked behind them were set up for plucking fruit and slicing plants, the university’s statement said. The tall teeth on both upper and lower jaw “operated like self-sharpening scissors,” according to the description.
“I think the bristles would have made it look at least a little bigger than it was—perhaps they could poke out more strongly when excited,” he told Discovery News. “The main defense would be speed of escape. These were very long-legged fast critters. [They could inflict] a nipping bite if cornered, using the fangs much like a peccary or fanged deer.”
Pegomastax africanus most likely lived and foraged along the forest-lined rivers of southern Africa as the supercontinent Pangaea was splitting into the northern and southern land masses we know today.
Below, how the CSI-style facial reconstruction was accomplished using the fossilized remains.