A bizarre dinosaur had vampire-like fangs, a parrot beak and porcupine bristles, researchers say.
The ancient creature, which was found 50 years ago in southern Africa but drew relatively little attention until now, may shed light on the evolution of the major group of dinosaurs that included famous giants such as Stegosaurus and Triceratops.
The 200-million-year-old dinosaur "was two-legged, probably fleet-footed, and had grasping hands," said researcher Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.
Named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa," it was less than 2 feet (0.6 meters) long and weighed less than a house cat at 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) at most, "and was mostly tail and neck," Sereno added.
Strangely, bristles somewhat like porcupine quills may have spread across most of the body of Pegomastax. Such bristles first appeared in a relative named Tianyulong recently discovered in China. Buried in lake sediments and covered by volcanic ash, Tianyulong was preserved with hundreds of bristles covering its body from its neck to the tip of its tail.
"It would have looked a bit like a two-legged porcupine, covered in these weird, funky, quill-like things," Sereno said of Pegomastax. "The bristles were not quite as strong as a porcupine's, and they don't look as if they were especially effective for insulation. Perhaps they had colors and helped differentiate species, or made Pegomastaxlook bigger than it actually was to potential predators."
Extending from its parrot-beaked skull, which was less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) long, were serrated canines a half-inch (0.8 cm) long from both its upper and lower jaws.