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Tiny dinosaur makes home at Natural History Museum of L.A. County

October 21, 2009 |  6:00 am

Dinosaur It weighed less than 2 pounds and was just 28 inches in length. But the Fruitadens haagarorum, as it is now known, represents a significant piece of the puzzle in  mankind's knowledge of the dinosaur era.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County said Tuesday that an international team of scientists had recently identified and named the species, which lived during the late Jurassic period in the western region of North America. It is the smallest dinosaur discovered on the continent.

Bones of the Fruitadens haagarorum were unearthed in the late 1970s in Colorado, but it has taken until now for scientists to get around to classifying them.

"It's actually not that uncommon for it to take so long," said Luis Chiappe, who runs the museum's Dinosaur Institute and who was part of the international team that identified the species. He said there is a significant dinosaur backlog at many museums.

Scientists have surmised that the tiny Fruitadens haagarorum was mostly a vegetarian, but it probably also ate insects and other small animals. This is because it possessed a combination of different-shaped teeth, including a canine-like tooth at the front of the lower jaw and leaf-shaped teeth in the cheek region.

Fruitadens also probably had a fuzzy outgrowth along the curve of its spine that some scientists believe was a precursor to feathers.

Its natural habitat was the semi-arid conditions of the western portion of what is now North America.

Several fossils of Fruitadens recently went on view at the museum. They include parts of the skull, vertebrae, arms and legs of four individuals. The scientific team has learned that the largest individuals of Fruitadens were probably young adults of 4 years of age.

And just in case you were wondering: The Latin-sounding name of the dinosaur isn't really Latin, strictly speaking. It is derived from the area of Fruita in Colorado, where the fossils were discovered, and the Latin word for tooth.

The second part of the name, "haagarorum," honors Natural History Museum donor and Board of Trustees President Paul Haaga and his family.

--David Ng

Related story:

Fossils of North America's smallest dinosaur identified

Photo: An image of Fruitadens haagarorum. Credit: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

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