Lycorhinus: Unveiling the Mysteries of an Early Jurassic Herbivore

Lycorhinus: Unveiling the Mysteries of an Early Jurassic Herbivore

Delving into the world of dinosaurs, we often encounter fascinating creatures that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. Among these ancient dinosaurs, Lycorhinus holds a unique place. Discovered in the rich fossil beds of South Africa, this dinosaur, whose name intriguingly means “Wolf Snout,” invites us to explore a distant past in the Early Jurassic Period. Its discovery not only enriches our understanding of prehistoric life but also sparks curiosity about the diverse ecosystems that existed long before humans.

Lycorhinus, a lesser-known yet intriguing member of the dinosaur community, offers a window into a world vastly different from our own. Its existence during the Hettangian to Pliensbachian Epochs of the Early Jurassic Period, approximately 201.3 to 182.7 million years ago, marks a significant era in Earth’s history. This period was a time of evolutionary experimentation, where life forms, including Lycorhinus, adapted and thrived in changing environments.

Lycorhinus Key Facts

Meaning of nameWolf Snout
Type SpeciesLycorhinus angustidens (syn. Lanasaurus scalpridens)
Other SpeciesL. parvidens
When it Lived199.1 to 191.1 MYA
PeriodEarly Jurassic
EpochHettangian to the top of the Pliensbachian
LengthApproximately 3.9 feet
HeightApproximately 1.0 foot
WeightApproximately 9.0 pounds
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1924 by Sidney Haughton
Described by1924 by Sidney Haughton
Location of first findUpper Elliot Formation, Massospondylus Assemblage Zone, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Lycorhinus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The name Lycorhinus, derived from the Greek words ‘lykos’ (wolf) and ‘rinos’ (nose), paints a vivid picture of this dinosaur’s distinct facial features. This etymology, rooted in the Greek language, offers a glimpse into the creature’s unique characteristics that inspired its naming.

Detailed illustration of L. angustidens, a bipedal herbivore from the Early Jurassic, shown in a prehistoric landscape. Lycorhinus was a small, agile dinosaur that fed on vegetation.

Belonging to the Ornithopoda, Lycorhinus is classified within the heterodontosaurid. Its type species, Lycorhinus angustidens, stands as a testament to the diversity within this family.

Lycorhinus was found in the upper Elliot Formation, South Africa, recently dated from 199.1 to 191.1 million years ago.

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Discovery & Fossil Evidence

Close-up of Lycorhinus fossil teeth, preserved in rock, highlighting the distinct dental features of this Early Jurassic herbivorous dinosaur. The image provides insight into the feeding habits and anatomy of Lycorhinus
Paul C. Sereno, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The narrative of Lycorhinus’s discovery is anchored in 1924 with Sidney H. Haughton’s identification of its remains in South Africa. Haughton initially mistook these fossils for those of a Cynodont due to their distinct wolf-like snout, hence the name Lycorhinus angustidens, meaning “Wolf Snout with Constricted Teeth”. The holotype, SAM-PK-K3606, a mandible discovered by Dr. M. Ricono, became the cornerstone of our understanding of this species.

Over time, other species like Lycorhinus parvidens and Lycorhinus tucki were proposed, but these classifications didn’t gain widespread acceptance. Similarly, Lycorhinus consors, named in 1974, was later reclassified as Abrictosaurus by James Hopson in 1975.

Lanasaurus and Its Reassessment

Detailed sketch of L. angustidens fossil block in top view, showing the arrangement of bones and teeth. This Early Jurassic dinosaur, Lycorhinus, is depicted with a focus on its herbivorous feeding anatomy and skeletal features.
Paul C. Sereno, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A significant twist in the tale of Lycorhinus involves the species Lanasaurus scalpridens, described by Christopher Gow in 1975. Named to honor Professor Alfred Walter Crompton (nicknamed “Fuzz”), Lanasaurus, meaning “Wool Lizard”, was initially thought to be a distinct species based on a partial upper jawbone found in the upper Elliot Formation.

However, Gow himself reassessed his findings in 1990, concluding that the holotype of Lanasaurus was, in fact, a specimen of Lycorhinus angustidens. This reclassification, widely accepted in the paleontological community, further consolidated the fossil evidence of Lycorhinus, emphasizing its unique dental characteristics and reinforcing its distinct place in the Early Jurassic ecosystem.

The fossil material, primarily dentaries and maxillae, underscores the unique dental features of Lycorhinus, offering a window into its dietary habits and ecological role. Despite the limited number of specimens, each discovery adds a valuable piece to the puzzle of understanding this intriguing dinosaur.

Lycorhinus Size and Description

At first glance, Lycorhinus might seem like an enigma wrapped in prehistoric mystery. This dinosaur, despite its modest size, boasted an intriguing feature: long canines nestled in its jaws, a characteristic more commonly associated with carnivorous species. Yet, this small herbivore, measuring around 3.9 feet in length, defies such simplistic categorization. Its body shape, adapted for a herbivorous diet, suggests a lifestyle far removed from the predatory pursuits one might initially imagine. The limbs, tail, and overall body structure of Lycorhinus paint a picture of a creature adept at navigating its Jurassic environment, moving with a grace and agility that belied its small stature.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Lycorhinus, a diminutive yet distinctive member of the dinosaur world, challenges our perceptions of prehistoric life. Spanning only around 3.9 feet in length, it stands as a testament to the diverse range of sizes that dinosaurs could attain. This modest length places Lycorhinus in the smaller spectrum of dinosaur sizes. While its weight remains a subject of conjecture, its size offers clues to its lifestyle and behavior. The small stature of Lycorhinus likely influenced its dietary choices, social interactions, and even its survival strategies in the lush, competitive landscapes of the Early Jurassic Period. This size also hints at a certain nimbleness, perhaps allowing it to forage efficiently among the dense vegetation of its era.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Lycorhinus, though not as extensively studied as some of its dinosaurian counterparts, possesses several features that make it a subject of interest. Its distinct cranial structure, particularly the snout from which it derives its name, sets it apart from other members of the Ornithopoda. This feature not only contributes to its unique appearance but may also have played a role in its feeding habits or social interactions.

The adaptability of Lycorhinus is evident in its bipedal locomotion, a trait that likely provided agility and speed, advantageous in navigating the diverse landscapes of the Early Jurassic. This aspect of its anatomy underscores the evolutionary versatility that ornithopods exhibited during this period.

Notable specimens of Lycorhinus, primarily represented by cranial fossils, have been pivotal in shaping our current understanding of this dinosaur. Each fossil discovery adds a piece to the puzzle, gradually revealing the lifestyle, habits, and characteristics of this intriguing creature.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the ancient dance of survival, Lycorhinus, a small but feisty predator, navigated a world teeming with contemporaries like Massospondylus, Lesothosaurus, Abrictosaurus, Pegomastax and Heterodontosaurus. Picture Lycorhinus, roughly the size of a modern-day leopard, stealthily maneuvering through the prehistoric underbrush. Its world was a dynamic stage where size and cunning played pivotal roles. Lesothosaurus, a bit smaller and more nimble, often found itself in a delicate ballet of predator and prey with Lycorhinus. These two, in a constant game of cat and mouse, showcased an ancient ecosystem’s intricate balance.

Amidst this prehistoric drama, Lycorhinus also encountered Abrictosaurus, a contemporary that was roughly the same size. This matchup was more like a duel among equals, where competition for resources often turned the tension palpable. Imagine the two dinosaurs, under the gaze of a primordial sun, locked in a momentary standstill, each assessing the other’s strength and weaknesses. This was not just a battle for survival, but a testament to the evolutionary arms race that dictated life millions of years ago. Meanwhile, the tiny but fierce Pegomastax, with its beak-like mouth and quill-like feathers, scurried around, a witness and sometimes a participant in these survival contests. Though smaller, Pegomastax was not to be underestimated, often scavenging what the larger dinosaurs left behind, playing its part in the cycle of life and death.

In this ancient world, Heterodontosaurus, another of Lycorhinus’s contemporaries, presented a unique challenge. Similar in size to Lycorhinus, Heterodontosaurus was an herbivore, but with its strong beak and fangs, it was far from defenseless. Encounters between Lycorhinus and Heterodontosaurus were likely a mix of cautious respect and opportunistic aggression. These interactions, under the vast, uncharted skies of prehistory, were not just about the hunt or the fight for territory; they were intricate dances that shaped the very fabric of their shared world, a world where each creature, large or small, played a role in the grand narrative of life’s relentless march through time.

Interesting Points about Lycorhinus

Lycorhinus in its Natural Habitat

Imagine the world of Lycorhinus, a landscape vastly different from our own. During the Early Jurassic, this dinosaur roamed lands that were likely lush and verdant, teeming with a variety of plant life. The climate of this era, while not precisely known, was probably conducive to the growth of diverse vegetation, providing ample food sources for herbivores like Lycorhinus.

As a herbivore, Lycorhinus’s diet consisted primarily of plants. Its teeth and jaw structure were likely adapted for efficient grazing or browsing. The bipedal locomotion of Lycorhinus suggests that it could have been a nimble forager, moving swiftly through its environment in search of food.

The social behavior of Lycorhinus remains a subject of speculation. Whether it was a solitary wanderer or a member of a herd is a question that continues to intrigue paleontologists. Its senses, too, adapted to its environment, would have played a crucial role in its survival, whether in detecting predators, finding food, or navigating its habitat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What era did Lycorhinus live in?

Lycorhinus thrived during the Early Jurassic Period, specifically from 199.9 to 191.9 million years ago.

What kind of diet did this dinosaur have?

As a herbivore, Lycorhinus primarily fed on plant material. Its diet would have included a variety of Jurassic flora available in its habitat.

Where was the first Lycorhinus fossil discovered?

The initial discovery of Lycorhinus fossils occurred in 1924 in the upper Elliot Formation, located in Paballong, Mount Fletcher, Herschel District, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, by Sidney Haughton.

What family does Lycorhinus belong to?

This dinosaur is classified under the heterodontosaurid family, a group known for their distinct dental features and small size.

How was Lycorhinus named and what does its name mean?

The name Lycorhinus, derived from Greek, translates to ‘Wolf Snout’, reflecting its distinctive snout shape. It was named by Sidney Haughton, who first described it in 1924.

What is known about Lycorhinus’ mobility?

Lycorhinus was bipedal, indicating it moved primarily on two legs. This mode of locomotion suggests a certain level of agility and speed in its movement.


The information in this article is based on various sources, drawing on scientific research, fossil evidence, and expert analysis. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of Lycorhinus. However, please be aware that our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

Article last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 01-15-2024

Featured Image Credit: National History Museum