T. rex's vegetarian cousin – bunnysaurus

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Call it rabbitosaurus. Or Bugs Bunny rex.

Call it rabbitosaurus. Or Bugs Bunny rex. A relative of Tyrannosaurus rex that lived about 128 million years ago in China seems to have had more in common with the cartoon rabbit than the fearsome king of the dinosaurs.

Like its larger relation, this creature stood on two legs. But instead of rows of razor-sharp flesh-ripping teeth, it sported a pair of large incisors like those found on a rabbit.

Incisivosaurus, as it is named, was a small dinosaur, with a head four inches long. Scientists found its fossil in Liaoning, north-east China, in a region that has already turned up many unusual finds, including feathered dinosaurs.

The creature, described today in the journal Nature, belongs to a family known as oviraptors. These were small two-legged dinosaurs with parrot beaks distantly related to carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus rex.

But Incisivosaurus, the oldest oviraptor found, lacked the bird-like features of its relatives. In place of a beak, it had a pair of long jaws filled with peg-shaped teeth made for grinding, similar to those of giant herbivores such as the Brontosaurus. But its most outstanding feature was two buck teeth at the front, which are reminiscent of those on rodents and could have been used for gnawing.

Xing Xu, a dinosaur expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, led the researchers, who believe the teeth imply that Incisivosaurus was vegetarian. Incisivosaurus, they say, was the first of the Tyrannosaurus family whose teeth seem to have been adapted for a herbivorous diet.

Others say buck teeth do not necessarily indicate a plant-eater. But the discovery has shaken up the traditional view of predatory two-legged dinosaurs, or theropods.