A strange and extremely tiny species of dinosaur with a beak-like face and sharp teeth has made its first appearance in the scientific literature.
The creature was discovered 50 years ago but forgotten since then in a fossil collection at Harvard University. It is a member of a family of small, barely studied dinosaurs called heterodontosaurs, meaning "different-toothed reptiles."
That description is particularly relevant for the new dinosaur, which was dubbed "Pegomastax africanus" by study author Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago paleontologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence. The dinosaur had tiny jaws — about 1 inch in length — but sported sharp canine teeth in addition to a set of tall teeth used for cutting plants. While Sereno says it is strange for an herbivore to have a set of sharp canines, he believes they were used to scare off predators and spar with potential mating competition, not to eat meat.
As if Pegomostax's small, beaked face and sharp teeth did not make it strange enough, Sereno believes the dinosaur was covered with porcupine-like quills as well. That idea comes from another species of heterodontosaur called Tianyulong, which was discovered in volcanic ash in China and had such bristles.