Fruitadens (Nobu Tamura).


Fruitadens (Greek for "Fruita tooth"); pronounced FROO-tah-denz


Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Late Jurassic (150 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About two feet long and 1-2 pounds


Probably omnivorous

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Exceptionally small size; bipedal posture; possibly feathers

About Fruitadens

It happens more often than you think, but the fossil specimens of Fruitadens languished for over two decades in museum collections before being meticulously examined. What these paleontologists found made headlines worldwide: a tiny (one or two pounds max), late Jurassic dinosaur that fed opportunistically on any bugs, plants, and any small critters that happened across its path. Fruitadens has proven difficult to classify; it has now been pegged as an ornithopod, and is believed to have been a close (albeit much smaller) relative of the "different-toothed" dinosaur Heterodontosaurus. (By the way, the name Fruitadens is often mistakenly translated as "fruit tooth," but this wee dinosaur was actually named after the Fruita region of Colorado, where its fossil specimens were excavated in the late 1070's.)

How could a dinosaur as tiny and inoffensive as Fruitadens survive in late Jurassic North America, home to giant, multi-ton sauropods like Brachiosaurus and fierce predators like Allosaurus? Logically enough, this tiny ornithischian probably adopted a similar strategy as the comparably sized mammals of the Mesozoic Era, scurrying through the underbrush (perhaps at night) and, just possibly, climbing trees to stay out of the way of larger dinosaurs. (In case you were wondering, as tiny as it was, Fruitafossor isn't the smallest dinosaur in the fossil record; that honor belongs to the four-winged Microraptor of early Cretaceous Asia, which was only about the size of a pigeon!)