A newly described species of dinosaur had a skull just 2.5 centimetres long but was equipped with jaws that gave it, kilogram for kilogram, pretty much the strongest bite around.
The animal, Colobops noviportensis, lived about 200 million years ago, and was one of a number of small-bodied creatures that ran around in the literal shadow of much, much larger dinosaurs.
Described in the journal Nature Communications by a team led by Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of Yale University in the US, the dinosaur was originally discovered during roadworks in Connecticut in 1965. It was taken to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, where it was put into storage and left unregarded for decades.
Despite being remarkably small and looking very much like a lizard, Bhullar and colleagues identified C. noviportensis as an early member of the diapsid lineage, the group that includes dinosaurs and, later, birds.
The main distinguishing characteristic of the diminutive dino was its jaw. The researchers did a 3D reconstruction and found its skull bones and, by inference, the muscles attached to them, showed a degree of specialisation never before seen any four-limbed vertebrate, living or extinct.
“Comparisons with modern reptile dissections showed that it had incredibly well-developed jaw muscles for its size, suggesting an exceptional bite, even compared to the diversity of modern reptiles,” says co-author Adam Pritchard.
Bhullar describes the animal as “a plucky little beast”.
“Its little jaws could bite harder than anything else its size,” he adds. “Perhaps that big bite allowed it to feed on tough, armoured prey impervious to weaker mouths.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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