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New Dinosaur Was A Small, Fanged Vegetarian

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A small, fanged dinosaur called Pegomastax africanus was identified this week, more than half a century after its skeleton was dug up in South Africa. The dinosaur looked like a fierce cross between a chicken and a porcupine, and had long fangs which it used to eat plants and compete for mates. Pegomastax was a diminutive beast, standing less than two feet tall and weighing no more than a small house cat.

Paleontologist Paul Sereno discovered the dinosaur. He originally came across the skeleton in 1983 in the back rooms of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, where it had been stored since the mid-1960s waiting to be cleaned and prepared. Decades after he first laid eyes on the skeleton, Sereno finally published his description of Pegomastax this week in the online journal ZooKeys.


Interview Highlights

On finding the fossil as a graduate student nearly 30 years ago

"A professor [at Harvard], Alfred Crompton famously found a small dinosaur called heterdontosaurus, which means "different-toothed reptile." It had canines, it was a beautiful little skeleton. And that's what I came to worship. I came to study its bones. But what I found was something else."

"On the slab were these tiny inch-long — just a little bit less than inch-long — jaws with teeth and fanged and it was revelation. I looked at it and immediately I knew I was looking at a new dinosaur.

On what Pegomastax looked like

"It has a very characteristic look — very short jaws, pretty much like a dinosaurian parrot."

"What really catches you are the fangs. It looks like a bird with a parrot-like beak but right behind that beak are fangs both upper and lower."

"Pegomastax is under two feet. We're talking about a small house cat in terms of weight. It would have been covered by a bristle-like covering making it perhaps less appetizing for another dinosaur to snarf it for lunch. And I think they were strict plant eaters."

On training a dinosaur as a pet

"They have a pretty good-sized brain, but I think the question would be could you train it not to nip you, something we have to train our dogs."

"I think you could probably get some average birdseed. We don't know what it was eating exactly, but a very short snout and this plucking, recurved beak and then the slicing teeth — it's eating something hard."

"I think you'd be able to keep it around and it probably would be trainable."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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