April 20, 2024


Name: Khinjaria acuta.

Age: About 67m to 69m years old.

Appearance: Demon-faced and dagger-toothed.

I’m sensing that a new dinosaur has just dropped. Correct. Well, it’s actually it’s a mosasaur, the sea variety. Fossilised remains found in the Sidi Chennane phosphate mines in Morocco have turned out to be from a new species. Welcome, Khinjaria acuta, to 2024.

And what’s special about it? It’s terrifying, nightmarish and hideously ugly.

Wow, that seems a bit harsh. I have it on excellent authority. On the “nightmarish” bit, writing in the journal Cretaceous Research, the team who investigated Khinjaria acuta, headed by Nick Longrich of the University of Bath, said “the large size, robust jaws, akinetic skull and bladelike teeth of khinjaria suggest it was an apex predator”, noting that its lower jaws “could expand to eat huge prey”. It was also about eight metres long – way bigger than the largest great white shark.

OK, it sounds terrifying, but ugly? The journal article calls khinjaria “bizarre”, with “a highly derived and unusual skull morphology”. Longrich went even further on his blog, describing it as “pretty freakish-looking”, “a cruel and nightmarish-looking animal” and “positively demonic”. He also said khinjaria “may well take first in the ugly contest”.

Brutal. Did a khinjaria hurt him? It probably would have if he had been around 67m to 69m years ago. Khinjaria’s big teeth, jaws “specialised to produce a large bite force” and short face made for a particularly powerful chomp; it almost certainly fed on large prey, Longrich says.

It seems a bit disrespectful to dismiss something that could eat us as if we were prawns as “ugly”. It’s not the only prehistoric beast to be labelled ugly. Check out the suzhousaurus, which looked like a cross between a giant rat and an extremely long-necked vulture.

Oh yes, that’s hideous. Then there is the matheronodon, which had outsized scissor-like teeth and, if reconstructions are anything to go by, a gormless expression. And the deinocheirus – part duck, part camel with weird frilly cuffs.

OK, at least khinjaria has “being terrifying” on its side. But a predator that fearsome needs a snappier (geddit) name; it’s no Tyrannosaurus rex, is it? Actually, Khinjaria acuta is derived from “khinjar”, an Arabic word for “dagger”, and acuta is Latin for sharp.

So it’s literally called “sharp dagger”? Yes.

OK, that is badass. Yes, although not as good as Longrich’s “really, really metal” initial suggestion: Shaytania pandaemonium (devil from hell, basically).

Do say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Don’t say: “Unfortunately, the beholder is in Khinjaria acuta’s ‘robust jaws’.”



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