New dinosaur species discovered after 50 years at Harvard

It waited 200 million years in the South African hills to be dug up, then waited 50 odd more in a collection of forgotten fossils at Harvard University.

Paleontologist and University of Chicago professor Paul Serano found Pegomastax africanus (“thick jaw from Africa”) hidden in Harvard’s lab drawers, and a new species was discovered. But Pegomastax didn’t make an immediate debut; Serano found the fossil in 1983, but is just reporting on the new species now, something for which he apologized in a New York Times interview.

Pegomastax was a species of heterodontosaur, meaning “different-toothed.” Heterodontosaurs were squirrel-sized herbivores that scuttled the Earth at the beginning of the age of the dinosaurs.

While Pegomastax has several cousins alike in size and diet, it has something very unique and unusual for a plant-eater. Inside a parrot-like beak are two long pairs of fanged canines that self-sharpened every time the creature opened or closed its jaw. Since these teeth would be overkill on a leafy snack, researchers believe they were predominantly used in self defense.

Researchers think Pegomastax sported another uncommon trait: Quills, like those on a porcupine. If it’s hard to imagine, check out a time-lapse video of the flesh model being constructed.

Illustration: Todd Marshall/University of Chicago


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