Check out the wicked fangs on this weird 'Dracula dinosaur'

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Dec 17, 2012

It sounds like the title of the latest Saturday night movie on Syfy (and hey, someone tip the programming department, because it sounds awesome), but it's real. Though it was only about the size of a cat, this 200-million-year-old dinosaur made up for its small stature with a wicked set of fangs. But did it want blood?

Named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa," this possible ancestor of the Stegosaurus and Triceratops was first discovered in southern Africa half a century ago, but it's only now getting attention thanks to new research. Less than 2 feet long and weighing only about 15 pounds, Pegomastax is described as having been "mostly tail and neck" by paleontologist Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago. But the dinosaur's small stature isn't what's most fascinating about it.

For one thing, it may have been covered in porcupine-like bristles.

"It would have looked a bit like a two-legged porcupine, covered in these weird, funky, quill-like things," Sereno said. "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 Pegomastax look bigger than it actually was to potential predators."

And then there are the fangs. Pegomastax's mouth was actually mostly made up of a 2-inch-long beak, but behind that were 4 half-inch fangs, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower. But as wicked as they look, Sereno thinks they weren't used to bite flesh.

"The canines probably had nothing to do with meat-eating," Sereno said. "They may have been used to spite rivals, nip at others, defend themselves, maybe root around for food."

Whatever they were used for, they definitely make Pegomastax more interesting to look at, and more interesting to study. In a new piece in the journal ZooKeys, Sereno and his colleagues have detailed their research into the dinosaur's relation to herbivorous ornithischians, known as "bird-hipped" dinosaurs. Because its age places it at the base of the ornithischian family tree, Sereno hopes Pegomastax will shed new light on how that group of dinosaurs evolved.

For more Dracula dinosaur fun, check out this video of Pegomastax being reconstructed.

(Via Huffington Post)