Look at this ugly, freaky, small critter. “Punk-sized,” according to its discoverer, a palaeontologist and professor at the University of Chicago. The name of this new dinosaur species is Pegomastax africanus (“thick jaw from Africa”) but I will call him Velocichicken. Velocichicken punkus. Because, I mean, look at the thing.
This fanged-beak gremlin is part of the heterodontosaurid family, one of the earlier and more extended groupings of dinosaurs. They lived at the same time of everyone’s favourite dinos, the Triceratops. The Stegosaurus too, for what it’s worth, but nobody cares about the Stegosaurus (I do. I love you, Stegy!)
Despite their vampiric appearance, these freaking two-legged beasts didn’t suck blood. Or so palaeontologists think, because, let’s be honest here, we are hypothesising about most of these things. According to Sereno, it’s “very rare that a plant-eater like Pegomastax [he really means Velocichicken] would sport sharp-edged, enlarged canines.”
Some palaeontologists believe that these fangs indicate a diet that may have included insects and some meat. Sereno argues that the fangs were for “self-defence and competitive sparring for mates”. He bases this theory on microscopic examination of the teeth of the Pegomastax and the rest of the heterodontosaurid:
Wear facets and chipped enamel suggest that the fangs of Pegomastax and other heterodontosaurs were used like those of living fanged deer for nipping or even digging, rather than slicing flesh.
These odd beasts were as small as hens. Their body, including the tail, measured less than 60cm in length. Sereno says that they weighed “less than a housecat”. Their bodies were covered in bristles. In theory this would have been a defence mechanism. According to the study, the Velocichicken looked like “nimble, two-legged porcupine”.
Like rats, they were all over the world. In fact, in the opinion of Sereno, while they are unknown to most people, “Pegomastax and kin were the most advanced plant-eaters of their day.”
Great. Thanks for the heads up, Professor! I will think about you when I wake up in a cold sweat tonight.