From high overhead, no one can see the tiny dinosaur perusing the plants on the ground. Weighing only 3.5 pounds and 24 inches long, Aquilops, one of the smallest dinosaurs, uses its beak to snip off plants with its hook-like beak.
But none of the ferns or saplings nearby are of interest. Aquilops doesn’t mind foraging. It has just spent the last few months with its herd walking across the Beiring Strait from its home in Asia to find a new area to settle in North America.
The journey had been long and daunting, and not everyone made it. But Aquilops never gave up hope, and the thought of new, tasty foods keeps it going. So it doesn’t mind walking a little further in search for vegetation.
Aquilops walks on two legs, its long tail helping to keeps its balance. On two legs, it can move faster, and though Aquilops hasn’t quite found the perfect meal yet, it is getting hungry.
Deciding to change course, Aquilops bends down, using the prong on its rostral bone to dig for food. At first, nothing good comes up. Then Aquilops’ prong hits a root. Curious, Aquilops cuts off a piece with its beak and tastes it.
The root has a sweet taste, and hits the spot. Aquilops digs to find more, grunting with pleasure.
Soon other Aquilops join the little dinosaur. But Aquilops is not willing to share with its herd. It stops digging and moves to cover the spot in the ground where it found the tasty root. It grunts, this time as a warning.
Most of the others back away, not willing to fight over an unknown plant. But one stays behind. It shuffles its feet, ready to attack.
Aquilops gets angry. It found the food first; it should not have to share. It lowers its head, preparing to strike with its prong.
After a few moments, the two dinosaurs run at each other. They hit one another with their prongs.
Aquilops feels the sting of the first blow, but that only fuels its anger. It moves backwards a couple steps only to run forward again, this time with greater momentum.
The other Aquilops is ready and braces itself for the impact. But Aquilops has much more force than it anticipated, and this time part of the second Aquilops’ breaks. The pain is so intense, the second Aquilops cries out and quickly shuffles away.
Proud, Aquilops returns triumphantly to its meal. It digs into the roots without any hesitation, savoring every bite. The months of walking and struggling were worth it, for this meal. This new land will give Aquilops a lot of opportunities, and it looks forward to digging up other new plants.
Though Aquilops is a juvenile, it will not grow much bigger, but it will lay the groundwork for its bigger descendants. 40 million years into the future, Triceratops, one of the most famous ceratopsians, will walk through the same area. Unlike Aquilops, Triceratops will have horns and a neck frill. And it will be 4,000 times bigger.
Facts about Aquilops:
- The name Aquilops means “eagle face”
- Aquilops was the size of a raven, with the mass of a bunny (3.5 pounds, 24 inches long)
- Aquilops is an early horned dinosaur, despite not having horns or a neck frill
- It lived 40 million years before Triceratops, which was 4,000 times its size
- Aquilops came from Asia, probably crossing the Beiring Strait; it is more closely related to Asian dinosaurs than North American ones
- Aquilops had a hook like beak, and a prong on its rostral bone (may have been from fighting or digging)
- It walked on two legs, had a long tail, and snipped off ferns and saplings with its beak
Find out more in the I Know Dino podcast, episode 13, “Aquilops.”