Researchers have identified a small but vicious dinosaur that lived 230 million years ago, just as dinosaurs were beginning to emerge. This creature named Eodromaeus, was about 4 feet long and weighed 10 to 14 pounds, according to a study published in the journal Science.

“It was very cute; you’d want it as a pet,” said Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors. “But it might be best as a guard dinosaur, to keep the dogs away.” That’s because the little dinosaur was also a fleet-footed meat eater, with an agile body and long canines that were ideal for digging into prey.

Based on its structure, it is believed that it was an early ancestor of other theropod dinosaurs, a group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex. Eodromaeus also resembles a dinosaur called Eoraptor in size and structure, but Eoraptor was most likely an early ancestor of sauropods, which included primarily long-necked herbivores.

But both species were small, ran on two legs and lived around the same time, leading the researchers to deem that the common ancestor of all dinosaurs was also just about four feet in length.

“This gives us the earliest snapshot of dinosaurs,” Dr. Sereno said. “They were just a couple million years away from the ultimate ancestor.”

Eodromaeus and Eoraptor were both discovered in the Ischigualasto Formation of northeastern Argentina, where Dr. Sereno has been involved in fossil excavations for 30 years and where some of the oldest known dinosaur remains have been found.


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