Paleontologists Thursday unveiled a weird dinosaur with rows of tiny teeth crammed into the very front of its jaws and almost translucent skull bones, which enabled it to live like a "Mesozoic cow," media reported.
The 110 million-year-old sauropod dinosaur, which was found in Niger, has been named Nigersaurus Taqueti.
"The biggest eureka moment was when I was sitting at the desk with this jaw," Paul Sereno at the University of Chicago told a news conference at the National Geographic Society, which funded the study. "I was sitting down just looking at it and saw a groove and ... realized that all the teeth were up front."
The 30-foot-long dinosaur's mouth is shaped like the wide intake slot of a vacuum and studded with no fewer than 500 teeth, including sets of natural "replacement" teeth, which allows it to hoover-up ferns and other ground greenery.
Another curious anatomical feature of the Nigersaurus was its backbone, made of more air then bone, the scientists said.
"The vertebrae are so paper-thin, that it is difficult to imagine them coping with the stresses of everyday use -- but we know that they did it, and they did it well," said Jeffrey Wilson, a coauthor from the University of Michigan.
CT scanning made it possible for paleontologists to study the inside of the animal's skull where the orientation of the semicircular canals -- the organ of equilibrium -- disclosed the habitual low pose of the head, they reported.
"In everyday life this animal had its nose pointed towards the ground," Sereno said.
The weird dinosaur seems to break the long-time perception that dinosaurs behaved like living long-necked animals such as giraffes, argues Sereno. "I think we were blindsided and missed the cows of the Mesozoic," Sereno said.
The dinosaur's anatomy and way of life are detailed in December's issue of National Geographic magazine, as well as in PLoS ONE, the online journal from the Public Library of Science.