Researchers have identified a species of puny dinosaur so odd looking — quills like a porcupine, a parrot-like beak and fangs like a vampire — it probably deserved a small part in “Jurassic Park.”
The finding was reported Wednesday in the online journal ZooKeys by Paul Sereno, a paleontologist and dinosaur specialist at the University of Chicago.
He did so belatedly. The specimen was first chipped out of a slab of red rock in southern Africa in the 1960s, and Sereno viewed it in 1983 at Harvard University.
Sereno told The New York Times that when he first saw it, “my eyes popped, as it was clear this was a new species.”
Ever since, the dinosaur researcher said he wondered “if anyone else might spot the creature hiding among the lab drawers.”
The creature is part of a class of small herbivores called heterodontosaurus. Sereno has baptized it Pegomastax africanus, or thick jaw from Africa.
The dinosaur measured less than two feet (61 centimeters) long and weighed less than a house cat, according to Sereno.
Its tall teeth in the upper and lower jaws operated like self-sharpening scissors.
While some scientists say heterodontosaurs ate meat or at least insects, Sereno said the sharp, vampire-like canines were more likely for self-defense or competitive sparring for mates.
The creature lived some 200 million years ago. Such small herbivores spread across the globe and while they are virtually unknown to the public, “Pegomastax and kin were the most advanced plant eaters of their day,” Sereno said in his report.
Bristles much like those of a porcupine probably covered much of its body.
He said small heterodontosaurs like Pegomastax probably spent their time scurrying about looking for plants to eat and looking like a “nimble two-legged porcupine.”