Lesothosaurus was one of the tiniest dinosaurs that ever lived, and a natural victim for predators.
Lesothosaurus was only about a metre long, which is no bigger than a labrador. This little dinosaur looked very much like a lizard with a long tail. It had a small head with a tough, beak-like mouth which it used to nip off leaves and plants for food. Inside its mouth, along its cheeks, were small teeth shaped like arrowheads. Lesothosaurus used these to chew up the tough and woody parts of plants before swallowing them.
The most primitive ornithischians, such as Lesothosaurus, had not evolved the complex chewing mechanism that was to characterise the later forms. Instead, they would have crushed their food by a simple up-and-down chopping action of the jaws. This is quite an unspecialised feeding method, and these animals may well have eaten carrion or insects as well as plants in order to survive.
Name: Lesothosaurus, meaning ‘reptile from Lesotho’
Size: up to 1m long
Food: low-lying plants
Lived: about 190 million years ago in the Early Jurassic Period in Lesotho, southern Africa
Lesothosaurus is one of the most primitive of the ornithischians, and as such it is difficult to put into a strict classification. It is a small, two-footed herbivore, built for speed. The head, on the end of a flexible neck, is short, triangular in profile, with big eyes. The teeth are arranged in a simple row and, unlike all other ornithopods, the mouth does not seem to have cheeks. The jaw action is one of simple chopping. The snout ends with a horn-covered, vegetation-cropping beak.
Lesothosaurus is very similar to the earlier-discovered Fabrosaurus. However, the Fabrosaurus material is so poor it is impossible to make direct comparisons. If they are the same genus, then the name Fabrosaurus would have to take precedence, being applied first.
Lesothosaurus had a body that was built for speed. It was light and nimble with long, slender back legs. Always on the alert for danger, it could run very fast to escape from carnivorous dinosaurs which tried to capture and kill it.
This dinosaur had no weapons with which to defend itself. However, scientists believe it may have had a way of warning other Lesothosaurus, by a noise or signal, when a predator was on the prowl.