Greek for "parrot lizard," Psittacosaurus is not, in fact, the subject of a Jimmy Buffett song, but a genus of odd-looking dinosaurs that inhabited what is now cental Asia in the early Cretaceous period.

The most primitive of the ceratopsians, Psittacosaurus showed no apparent resemblance to the mighty bison-like Triceratops that appeared much later in the Cretaceous, the only clear indication of its relationship to such huge beasts being the rostral bone that gave its distinctive, parrot-like beak. A small, herbivorous biped, it had four digits on each limb, one of which was much shorter than the other three and may have functioned as a sort of thumb, enabling the animal to grasp branches and shrubs while feeding.

Psittacosaurus grew to only about 2 meters long, and probably only about 1 meter tall as it didn't stand upright. Its arms were considerably shorter than its legs, but still well-developed so that it probably could have walked on all fours if the need arose. Its body was rather bulky, with a short tail.

Like its avian namesake, the "parrot" dinosaur had very powerful jaws, which aided it in chewing the tough vegetation native to its arid habitat. Its teeth were unremarkable by comparison. Small, rounded stones, presumably gastroliths to facilitate digestion, have been found in the stomachs of a few Psittacosaurus fossils. Bones of these dinosaurs are among the most commonly found in Mongolian fossil sites, and have been located at many digs across much of the Asian continent.

Many species of Psittacosaurus have been identified, including P. mongoliensis, P. meileyingensis, P. neimongoliensis, P. ordosensis, P. sattayaraki, P. sinensis, and P. xinjiangensis. Several others were named but later found to be juvenile specimens of previously known species.

Order: Ornithischia
Suborder: Marginocephalia
Infraorder: Ceratopsia
Family: Psittacosauridae

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