A new study of Pegomastax africanus, a 2-foot-long (0.6-meter-long) heterodontosaur that lived about 200 million years ago tells that this new, tiny dinosaur with vampire-like fangs devoured plants.
Heterodontosaurus was a genus of small, fanged dinosaur species that were “scampering around between the toes of other dinosaurs at the dawn of the dinosaur era,” said study author Paul Sereno, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence.
Covered in porcupine-like quills and sporting a blunt, parrot-like beak, P. africanus would’ve looked like a “strange little bird,” said Sereno. But its fangs, Sereno argues, were more like those of the piglike peccary or fanged deer, or water chevrotain —modern-day, plant-eating mammals that use their teeth for self-defense and foraging. The species, he added, would have lived along forested rivers in southern Africa around the time the supercontinent Pangaea had just begun to split into the northern and southern landmasses.
Artificial skin and quills flesh out a cast of a skull from Pegomastax africanus (“thick jaw from Africa”)…
Photograph courtesy Tyler Keillor
To find out what the newfound dinosaur did with its sharp fangs, Sereno reassembled P. africanus‘ jaw and teeth. He compared the reconstruction to jaws and teeth of both meat-eating dinosaurs and modern plant-eating mammals with fangs. He discovered that P. africanus’ fangs were very similar to those of fanged deer and peccaries, which use their fangs in self-defense and competition for mates, he said.
Supporting this theory, microscopic analysis of P. africanus’ fang enamel revealed wear and breakage consistent with sparring.
The study revealed that P. africanus’ sophisticated jaw structure was ahead of its time, Sereno noted. Such structures evolved again millions of years later in mammals.