Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Research Article

New heterodontosaurid specimens from the Lower Jurassic of southern Africa and the early ornithischian dinosaur radiation

Laura B. Porroa1 c1, Richard J. Butlera2 c1, Paul M. Barretta3, Scott Moore-Faya3a4 and Richard L. Abela5

a1 Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

a2 Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, Richard-Wagner-Straße 10, 80333 Munich, Germany

a3 Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

a4 Wavecut Platform Ltd, 131 Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 3DJ, UK

a5 Department of Mineralogy, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK


Heterodontosaurids are poorly understood early ornithischian dinosaurs with extensive geographic and stratigraphic ranges. The group is best known from the Lower Jurassic upper ‘Stormberg Group’ (upper Elliot and Clarens formations) of southern Africa, previously represented by at least three distinct species and ten described specimens. This paper describes four additional heterodontosaurid specimens from southern Africa. A partial skull of a large individual of Heterodontosaurus tucki (NM QR 1788) is approximately 70 longer than that of the type specimen of Heterodontosaurus, and provides new information on allometric changes in mandibular morphology during growth in this taxon. It is the largest known heterodontosaurid cranial specimen, representing an individual approximately 1·75 metres in length, and perhaps 10 kg in body mass. NHMUK R14161 is a partial skull that appears to differ from all other heterodontosaurids on the basis of the proportions of the dentaries, and may represent an unnamed new taxon. Two additional partial skulls (NHMUK RU C68, NHMUK RU69) are referred to cf. Lycorhinus. At least four, and possibly five or more, heterodontosaurid species are present in the upper ‘Stormberg’. This high diversity may have been achieved by dietary niche partitioning, and suggests an adaptive radiation of small-bodied ornithischians following the end Triassic extinctions.

Key Words:

  • diversity;
  • Elliot Formation;
  • Heterodontosauridae;
  • Ornithischia;
  • South Africa;
  • Stormberg Group;
  • tooth replacement


c1 Corresponding authors