A strange fossil specimen found in China has just blown the lid off a brand new species of dinosaur.
A new study sheds light on the earliest known marine reptile that had a herbivorous diet, and it’s quiet a bizarre creature.
The dinosaur, Atopodentatus unicus, would have had a “hammerhead” shape, and likely fed on plants on the bottom of the ocean, according to a Field Museum statement.
Co-author Olivier Rieppel, an evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, called it a “very strange animal” in the statement, noting that its hammerhead shape is unique and this is the first time scientists have ever come across such an animal.
The fossil specimens were found in Yunnan Province in China, and indicate a horizontal “hammerhead” shape instead of a skull with a downturned snout as had been hypothesized before. Scientists think that it used chisel-shaped teeth to scrap algae off rocks on the sea floor.
If it is true that A. unicus was a plant eater exclusively, then it would be just the second ancient marine reptile to have been found that has that characteristic. A Triassic-era turtle-like creature called Henodus would have been the other.
“It’s a very strange animal,” Rieppel said. “It’s got a hammerhead, which is unique, it’s the first time we’ve seen a reptile like this
“To figure out how the jaw fit together and how the animal actually fed, we bought some children’s clay, kind of like Play-Doh, and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth,” Rieppel continued. “We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together, and that’s how we proceeded and described it.”