A model and skull of a new dinosaur species named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa".

A model and skull of a new dinosaur species named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa".

A new dinosaur the size of a house cat and described as a cross between ‘‘a bird, a vampire and a porcupine’’ has been identified in a piece of rock from South Africa.

University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno, who published the findings on Wednesday in the online scientific journal ZooKeys, told Reuters he orginally discovered the small-bodied herbivore in 1983.

Dr Sereno, whose research involved mapping the dinosaur family tree, said he came upon the specimen as a graduate student while doing research in a Harvard University laboratory and intended to write about it immediately.

‘‘I said, ’Whoa!’ I realised it was a new species from the moment I set eyes on it,’’ Dr Sereno said.

But he said he grew distracted by other things, and had in mind a more ambitious research project.

‘‘There was always a danger that someone would discover it and write about it, and I would read about it,’’ he said, but added it was all for the best: ‘‘Hey, I’m smarter than I was then.’’

The strange-looking species, which Sereno has named Pegomastax africanus, or ‘‘thick jaw from Africa’’, lived between 100 million and 200 million years ago.

‘‘I describe it as a bird, a vampire and a porcupine,’’ Sereno said.

It had the weight of a small house cat and stood less than 30 centimetres off of the ground.

It had a thick jaw and a blunt beak with a ‘‘heightened tooth that sticks down, dagger-like’’, Dr Sereno said.

Reuters