Dinosaur Had Fangs But Only Ate Plants
October 3, 2012

Fanged Dwarf Dinosaur Would Have Made Nice Pet

[ Watch the Video: Making of Heterodontosaurus Flesh Model ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Scientists have unveiled new details about a fanged dinosaur with a parrot-shaped beak known as Pegomastax africanus.

A single specimen of the new species was first uncovered in southern Africa in the 1960's, but new details of the dinosaur's anatomy and lifestyle have been published in the journal ZooKeys.

Scientists report that Pegomastax had fangs, but was more in our day-in-age similar to a deer or plant-eating mammal.

The fanged Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa," had tall teeth tucked behind its stabbing canines for slicing plants. The tall teeth in its upper and lower jaws operated life self-sharpening scissors, with shearing wear facets that slid past each other once the jaws were shut.

"Very rare that a plant-eater like Pegomastax would sport sharp-edged, enlarged canines," National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Paul Sereno said.

Sereno said that Pegomastax had the fanged teeth for self-defense and competitive sparring for mates, most likely. He based his observations on microscopic examination of the teeth of Pegomastax and its relatives.

Wear facets and chipped enamel suggest that the fangs of the dinosaur and other heterodontosaurs were used like those of living fanged deer for nipping or digging, rather than slicing through flesh.

He also wrote that a bizarre covering of bristles, similar to a porcupine, covered most of the body of Pegomastax. These bristles first came to light in a similar sized heterodontsaur known as Tianyulong.

Tianyulong was discovered in China, buried in lake sediment and covered by volcanic ash. The dinosaur featured hundreds of bristles across its body from its neck to the tip of its tail.

Sereno said dwarf-sized heterodontosaurs like Pegomastax would have ran around in search of suitable plants, looking like a "nimble two-legged porcupine."

When the dinosaur lived about 200 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangea had just started to split into northern and southern landmasses.

According to the study, heterodontosaurs were divided along with Pangea's split. The northern species had simple triangular teeth like Tianyulong, while the southern species had taller crowns like Pegomastax.

Sereno said these early herbivores that spread across the globe were the "most advanced plant-eaters of their day."

He said that if the housecat-sized Pegomastax lived today, then it would make a nice pet, assuming you could train it not to nip at you.