Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Parrot-like dinosaur described

An artist's impression of the parrot-faced dwarf dinosaur Pegomastax which bore a strange mixture of features including quills and fangs

A newly-described dinosaur resembled a weird combination of parrot, vampire bat and porcupine.

Pegomastax africanus, which measured less than two feet, lived in southern Africa some 200 million years ago.

Despite having a parrot-like beak and eating plants, it also sported vampire-like pairs of sharp-edged fangs.

Scientists believe the enlarged canines may have been used for self defence and competitive sparring. Most of the dinosaur's body was covered in sharp bristles, or quills.

Professor Paul Sereno, from the University of Chicago in the US, said it would have looked like a "nimble two-legged porcupine".

A single fossil specimen of the species was originally extracted from red rock in the 1960s. Later it was "discovered" in a collection of fossils at Harvard University in the US. Details of the creature's anatomy and lifestyle were published in the online journal ZooKeys.

Scientists said the dinosaur's parrot-shaped skull, which was less than three inches long, may have been adapted to plucking fruit.

"It's very rare that a plant-eater like Pegomastax would sport sharp-edged enlarged canines," said Prof Sereno, who led the team studying the dinosaur.

Pegomastax belonged to a family called heterodonosaurs, which included Tianyulong, another bristle-covered dinosaur from China. Branches of the same family tree later led to famous plant-eaters such as the horned Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

Although the early herbivores are virtually unknown to the public, Prof Sereno said: "Pegomastax and kin were the most advanced plant-eaters of their day."

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