An Ultimate Guide to Heterodontosaurus: Different-Tooth

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NameHeterodontosaurus DietHerbivorous
Name MeaningDifferent-toothed LizardHeight1.18 meters (3 feet)
PronunciationHe-te-roh-don-tuh-sore-usLength1.75 meters (5 feet)
EraMesozoicJurrasic PeriodWeight1.8-3.4 kgs (4-7.5 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria, Ornithischia & HeterodontosauridaeLocationLesotho & South Africa

Heterodontosaurus Pictures

Illustration of Heterodontosaurus in a white background
Illustration of Heterodontosaurus in a white background | Nobumichi Tamura via Getty Images

The Heterodontosaurus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Heterodontosaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Heterodontosaurus Concept

The Jurassic period was an epoch of stunning landscapes and extraordinary creatures, serving as the hallmark of the Mesozoic Era.

While this epoch is significant for many reasons, it is most famous for its role in developing dinosaurs, a time when the dinosaurs reigned supreme, evolving and diversifying with unmatched vigor and creativity, setting the stage for the mesmerizing forms, and shaping the prehistoric Earth.

Although the Jurassic period was just the beginning of the evolution of dinosaurs, it witnessed the development of many unique species, including the Heterodontosaurus.

The Heterodontosaurus stands as a true enigma, an early ornithischian dinosaur with unique features that set it apart.

This dinosaur gained popularity primarily because of its dentition, but its allure goes beyond its teeth.

The Heterodontosaurus was initially discovered between 1961 and 1962 in South Africa and what is now Lesotho.

This discovery was made in the Cape Province of the country at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

Map of Heterodontosaurid localities
Map of Heterodontosaurid localities | Paul C. Sereno via Wikimedia Commons CCA 3.0

South African paleontologists Alfred Walter Crompton and Alan J. Charig gave the Heterodontosaurus its name in 1962.

Heterodontosaurus is derived from the Greek words: heteros, meaning different, odous, meaning tooth, and sauros meaning lizard.

This name reflects the unique dental features of the dinosaur, which had a varied set of teeth, suggesting a mixed or heterodont dentition.

Apart from its teeth, Heterodontosaurus has several other noteworthy features.

Read on to discover these features and other facts about the creature’s life.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
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Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Heterodontosaurus Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Heterodontosaurus Size Comparison Chart

The Heterodontosaurus was a small dinosaur, and the complete skeleton found revealed that the creature measured almost four feet and weighed between 4-7.5 pounds.

However, some experts believe that this initial find was a juvenile and that the dinosaur grew significantly larger, and later findings confirmed this theory.

According to a second specimen with an incomplete head, the Heterodontosaurus may have reached a maximum size of 5.9 feet in length and about 22 pounds in weight.

Despite its small size, the Heterodontosaurus was the largest member of the family Heterodontosauridae, which included some of the smallest ornithischian dinosaurs.

As with other prehistoric creatures, the Heterodontosaurus’ skull gave experts an insight into the creature’s life.

The skull of Heterodontosaurus is characterized by its distinctive features, each of which provides clues about its behavior, diet, and evolutionary lineage.

Like the rest of the dinosaur’s body, its skull was also small but robust.

Skull of heterodontosaurus
Skull of heterodontosaurus | Paul C. Sereno via Wikimedia Commons CCA 3.0

As seen from the side, the skull was elongated, slender, and triangular, with the sagittal crest serving as the highest point from which the skull sloped downward toward the snout tip.

The most unique feature of the Heterodontosaurus was its dentition.

This dinosaur, unlike other dinosaurs or reptiles, had different-shaped teeth, which is a feature otherwise peculiar to mammals.

Most reptiles have one type of teeth, but the Heterodontosaurus had three; the first type resembled incisors, while the other two types resembled canines; the only difference was their size.

While the exact coloration of Heterodontosaurus remains speculative due to the limitations of the fossil record, some educated guesses can be made based on related species and modern-day analogs.

It is plausible that its body was adorned with earthy tones, possibly providing camouflage in its natural environment.

One aspect easily determined by experts was the creature’s method of locomotion.

The most distinguishing features of this dinosaur was its set of teeth
The most distinguishing features of this dinosaur was its set of teeth | Vaderxl via Dinopedia Fandom

Like many other dinosaurs, Heterodontosaurus was predominantly bipedal, walking on its two hind limbs.

This mode of locomotion allowed for efficient movement and maneuverability.

The hind limbs were longer and more robust than the forelimbs, suggesting they were crucial in supporting the dinosaur’s weight and propelling it forward.

Heterodontosaurus possessed five-fingered forelimbs with sharp claws.

These hands were well-adapted for grasping and manipulating objects, likely including feeding on vegetation and potentially engaging in other activities like digging or defense, which would have been advantageous for its survival.

Habitat and Distribution

As established, the Heterodontosaurus was a small dinosaur from the Ornithischia clade that lived during the Early Jurassic period, approximately 200 million years ago.

Initially, it was believed that Heterodontosaurus lived in the Upper Triassic.

When the creature lived, Earth underwent significant changes after the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event.

The climate was generally warmer than it is today, with vast expanses of lush vegetation covering the land.

Many areas were characterized by humid and tropical conditions, with dense forests, rivers, and lakes forming a diverse ecosystem.

Fossils of Heterodontosaurus have been discovered in strata of the Karoo Supergroup, such as the Upper Elliot Formation and the Clarens Formation, which date to the Lower Jurassic’s Hettangian and Sinemurian periods, around 200-190 million years ago.

Fossils of Heterodontosaurus have been discovered primarily in southern Africa, specifically in the region of South Africa.

Specimen of heterodontosaurus displayed by the University of California Museum of Paleontology
Specimen of heterodontosaurus displayed by the University of California Museum of Paleontology | Daderot via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

These fossils have been found in sedimentary rock formations, which provide insights into the kind of landscapes the dinosaur might have inhabited.

The fossils have been recovered from various geological formations within this area, providing valuable insights into its presence during the Early Jurassic period.

While the majority of known specimens are from South Africa, there is the potential for their distribution to extend beyond the currently documented sites.

Because of the creature’s herbivorous diet, it likely inhabited areas with adequate vegetation.

Behavior and Diet

The evidence for the social behavior of Heterodontosaurus is limited due to the scarcity of fossils and the challenges of interpreting behaviors from the fossil record.

Although mostly inaccurate, comparisons with modern animals can offer insights into potential social behaviors.

Heterodontosaurus had a varied diet that could have included both plants and small animals
Heterodontosaurus had a varied diet that could have included both plants and small animals | Dinosaurs20 via Jurassic Park Fandom

While Heterodontosaurus is distantly related to extant species, parallels can be drawn with herbivorous mammals and reptiles that exhibit group living or parental care behaviors.

Researchers have proposed the presence of sexual dimorphism in Heterodontosaurus based on differences in skull anatomy, particularly the size and shape of the canine teeth.

This discovery suggests potential roles in mating rituals or male competition for mates.

Also, the creature’s enlarged canines could have been used for threat displays or as tools in social interactions.

Understanding the social behavior of Heterodontosaurus not only sheds light on the lifestyle of this ancient dinosaur but also contributes to our broader understanding of dinosaur sociality and evolution.

However, it is important to acknowledge the uncertainties inherent in interpreting behaviors from the fossil record.

Heterodontosaurus lived during the Early Jurassic period
Heterodontosaurus lived during the Early Jurassic period | Disneysaurus via Dinosaur Wiki

Future discoveries, improved analytical techniques, and advancements in our understanding of dinosaur biology may clarify the social dynamics of Heterodontosaurus and other dinosaurs.

One of the most striking features of the Heterodontosaurus is its unique dentition.

This dinosaur possessed three types of teeth: large, chisel-like incisors at the front of the jaw, smaller and more pointed canines, and multi-cusped cheek teeth at the back of the mouth.

This heterodont dentition is often interpreted as an adaptation to a varied diet, allowing the dinosaur to process a wide range of food sources.

The exact diet of the Heterodontosaurus has been debated among paleontologists for decades.

The presence of sharp, pointed canines initially led researchers to believe that the dinosaur was omnivorous, capable of consuming both plant matter and small animals.

However, as our understanding of its anatomy and the fossil record has improved, the consensus has shifted toward considering the Heterodontosaurus primarily as a herbivore.

Life Cycle

Replica of heterodontosaurus in the Saurierpark Kleinwelka
Replica of heterodontosaurus in the Saurierpark Kleinwelka | Rigorius via Wikimedia Commons CC A-SA 4.0

Like other dinosaurs, the life cycle of the Heterodontosaurus began with hatching its eggs.

These eggs were likely buried in nests, protecting the developing embryos.

Once the eggs hatched, small hatchlings emerged into the world.

These young dinosaurs were likely quite vulnerable and would have required parental care or some form of protection to ensure their survival.

The hatchlings were miniature versions of the adults, with some distinct features that set them apart.

Their small size and potentially less developed structures suggest they may have had different dietary habits than the adults, focusing on softer and more easily digestible plants.

Model of heterodontosaurus digging up for termites in a termite hound | Nkansahrexford via Wikimedia Commons CCA 3.0

As the hatchlings grew, they entered the juvenile stage of their life cycle.

During this period, Heterodontosaurus would have experienced significant growth in size and capabilities.

The juveniles likely exhibited behaviors such as social interaction, exploration, and honing their skills in finding food and avoiding predators.

Reaching adulthood marked a significant milestone in the life of Heterodontosaurus.

Adult individuals were likely fully equipped to participate in all aspects of their ecosystem, from foraging for food to reproducing.

Their heterodont dentition, which featured different types of teeth adapted for various functions, would have played a crucial role in their dietary habits.

These adaptations allowed them to efficiently consume various plant materials, granting them a competitive advantage in their environment.

Illustration of heterodontosaurus
Illustration of heterodontosaurus | Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images

At some point during their adult lives, Heterodontosaurus individuals would have reached sexual maturity and engaged in the reproductive stage of their life cycle.

The exact details of their reproductive behavior have yet to be fully understood, but it is presumed that courtship displays, mating rituals, and nest-building would have played a role.

Evolution and History

The classification of Heterodontosaurus has been a matter of ongoing debate due to its mosaic of characteristics that span various dinosaur groups.

The primary question revolves around whether Heterodontosaurus is a basal member of the Ornithischia group or represents an early branch within a specific lineage.

This creature is generally classified within the Ornithischia order due to its bird-like pelvic structure.

Within the Ornithischia, the placement of Heterodontosaurus remains a subject of discussion.

Flesh reconstruction of the head and neck of Heterodontosaurus
Flesh reconstruction of the head and neck of Heterodontosaurus | Tyler Keillor via Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

Some researchers argue that its unique characteristics suggest it might represent a basal form, a dinosaur close to the evolutionary root of the Ornithischia lineage.

Others propose that it could belong to a more advanced group and hold important information about the early divergence of different ornithischian lineages.

Heterodontosaurus occupies a pivotal position in the evolutionary history of dinosaurs.

As one of the earliest ornithischians, it offers insights into the transition from reptilian ancestral forms to the more advanced traits seen in later dinosaurs.

Its blend of fundamental traits—like the existence of canine-like teeth—and distinctive traits—like its specialized dentition—offers a glimpse of the evolutionary experimentation that helped give rise to the astounding diversity of dinosaurs that came after.

Interactions with Other Species

In the context of its interactions with other herbivorous dinosaurs, the Heterodontosaurus likely had both competitive and cooperative relationships.

It probably shared its environment with other herbivores like prosauropods and early ornithischians.

A large carnivorous dracovenator chasing a group of heterodontosaurus
A large carnivorous dracovenator chasing a group of heterodontosaurus | Sergey Krasovskiy via Getty Images

While there might have been competition for resources, the specialized diet of the Heterodontosaurus may have allowed it to exploit a unique dietary niche, reducing direct competition.

Furthermore, cooperative interactions might have arisen among these herbivores due to the presence of shared predators.

The safety in numbers principle could have led to the formation of mixed-species herds, where the Heterodontosaurus, with its sharp front teeth, could have contributed to the overall defense of the herd against predators.

The Heterodontosaurus, as an herbivorous dinosaur, played a crucial role in shaping the structure of its ecosystem.

Consuming plant materials would have influenced plant communities by selectively feeding on certain species, thus affecting their abundance and distribution.

In turn, it could have cascading effects on other species, including those higher up the food chain.

Life restoration of Heterodontosaurus
Life restoration of Heterodontosaurus | Michael B. H. via Wikimedia Commons CC A-SA 3.0

The activities of the Heterodontosaurus, such as trampling and seed dispersal, also contributed to the spread of certain plant species and influenced the composition of plant communities.

These interactions highlight the intricate ways species in an ecosystem are interconnected and reliant on one another.

Cultural Significance

The discovery and study of Heterodontosaurus have been instrumental in advancing our understanding of dinosaur evolution and adaptation.

Its dental peculiarities provided valuable clues about the evolution of teeth and feeding strategies in dinosaurs, shedding light on the incredible diversity of prehistoric life.

Furthermore, the relatively complete fossil remains of Heterodontosaurus allowed paleontologists to piece together important details about its anatomy, behavior, and habitat.

This knowledge has not only enriched the field of paleontology but has also helped researchers reconstruct the broader ecosystem of its time.

Illustration representing Heterodontosaurus eating leaves
Illustration representing Heterodontosaurus eating leaves | DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY via Getty Images

The Heterodontosaurus has also become an engaging educational tool, captivating the minds of young learners and igniting their curiosity about the prehistoric world.

Its unique dental adaptation has become a symbol of versatility and adaptation.

Its diverse teeth are also a testament to the creature’s ability to thrive by evolving specialized traits in response to its environment.

This symbolism resonates with modern society’s emphasis on adaptability, innovation, and finding creative solutions to challenges.


The Heterodontosaurus is a captivating enigma of the Early Jurassic period, offering us a window into the dynamic world of prehistoric life.

With its distinctive dental features, small but robust frame, and potential social behaviors, this dinosaur has left an indelible mark on our understanding of evolution, adaptation, and inter-species interactions.

Its unique dentition, resembling that of mammals, challenges conventional notions of reptilian teeth and provides a gateway to discussions about dietary diversity and ecological roles.

As a representative of the ornithischian lineage, the Heterodontosaurus occupies a pivotal position in the dinosaur family tree, bridging the gap between ancestral forms and the diverse species that followed.

Beyond its scientific significance, the Heterodontosaurus has become an icon of adaptability, symbolizing the creative responses that enable survival in changing environments.

Its story, told through fossils, studies, and cultural interpretation, reminds us of the fascinating complexity of ancient life and the enduring impact of even the most modest-sized creatures on our understanding of the natural world.


Is there any museum where the Heterodontosaurus is on display?

Yes, the Heterodontosaurus can be found in the Iziko South African Museum.

Were there any predators that targeted Heterodontosaurus?

While direct evidence of predators targeting Heterodontosaurus is limited, the presence of predators during the Early Jurassic period suggests it was likely part of the prey-predator interactions in its ecosystem.


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