Hypsilophodon (/ˌhɪpsɪˈlɒfoʊdɒn/; meaning "Hypsilophus-tooth") is an ornithischian dinosaur genus from the Early Cretaceous period of England. It has traditionally been considered an early member of the group Ornithopoda, but recent research has put this into question.
The first remains of Hypsilophodon were found in 1849; the type species, Hypsilophodon foxii, was named in 1869. Abundant fossil discoveries were made on the Isle of Wight, giving a good impression of the build of the species. It was a small bipedal animal with an herbivorous or possibly omnivorous diet. Hypsilophodon reached up to 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) in length, weighed about 20 kg (45 lbs), and was an agile runner. It had a pointed head equipped with a sharp beak used to bite off plant material, much like modern day parrots.
Older studies have given rise to number of misconceptions about Hypsilophodon: that it would climb trees, that its name means "high-rided tooth", was armoured, reached a length of 2.3 metres (7.5 ft), and was also found outside of Wight. During the past decades new research has gradually shown this to be incorrect.
|Replica at Brussels Science Institute|
The first specimen of Hypsilophodon was recovered in 1849, when workers dug up the so-called Mantell-Bowerbank block from an outcrop of the Wealden Group, about one hundred yards west of Cowleaze Chine, on the south-west coast of Isle of Wight. The larger half of the block (including seventeen vertebrae, parts of ribs and a coracoid, some of the pelvis, and assorted hindleg remains) was given to naturalist James Scott Bowerbank, and the remainder (including evelen caudal vertebrae and most of the rest of hindlegs) to Gideon Mantell. After his death, Mantell's portion was acquired by the British Museum; Bowerbank's was acquired later, bringing both halves back together. Richard Owen studied both halves and, in 1855, published a short article on the specimen, considering it to be a young Iguanodon rather than a new taxon. This was unquestioned until 1867, when Thomas Henry Huxley compared the vertebrae and metatarsals of the specimen more closely to those of known Iguanodon, and concluded that it must be a different animal entirely. The next year, he saw a fossil skull discovered by William Fox on exhibition at the Norwich Meeting of the British Associations. Fox, who had also found his fossil in the Cowleaze Chine area, along with several other specimens, considered it to belong to a juvenile Iguanodon, or to represent a new, small species in the genus. Huxley noticed its unique dentition and edentulous premaxilla, reminiscent of but obviously distinct from that of Iguanodon. He concluded this specimen, too, represented a distinct animal from Iguanodon. After losing track of the specimen for some months, Huxley requested Fox grant him permission to study the specimen to a more extensive degree. The request was granted, and Huxley began work on his new species.
Huxley first announced the new species in 1869 in a lecture; the text of this, published the same year, forms the official naming article, because it contained a sufficient description. The species was named Hypsilophodon foxii, and the holotype was the Fox skull (which today has the inventory number NHM R197). The next year, Huxley published the expanded full description article. Within the same block of stone as the Fox skull, the centrum of a dorsal vertebra had been preserved. This allowed comparison with the Mantell-Bowerbank block, confirming it to belong to the same species. Further supporting this, Fox had confirmed that the block was found in the same geological bed as his skeletons. As such, Huxley described this specimen in addition to the skull and centrum. It would become the paratype; its two pieces are now registered in the Natural History Museum as specimen NHM 28707, 39560-1. Later in the same year, Huxley classified Hypsilophodon taxonomically, considering it to belong to the family Iguanodontidae, related to Iguanodon and Hadrosaurus. There would later be a persistent misunderstanding as to the meaning of the generic name, which is often translated directly from the Greek as "high-ridged tooth". In reality Huxley, analogous to the way the name of the related genus Iguanodon ("iguana-tooth") had been formed, intended to name the animal after an extant herbivorous lizard, choosing for this role Hypsilophus and combining its name with Greek ὀδών, odon, "tooth". Hypsilophodon thus means "Hypsilophus-tooth". The Greek ὑψίλοφος, hypsilophos, means "high-crested" and refers to the back frill of the lizard, not to the teeth of Hypsilophodon itself, which are not high-ridged in any case. The specific name foxii honours Fox.
Immediate reception to Huxley's proposal of a new genus, distinct from Iguanodon, was mixed. The issue of distinctiveness was seen as important as more information on form of Iguanodon was in demand, and the cranial anatomy in particular was of importance. If the Cowleaze Chine material was a distinct genus, it ceased being useful in this respect. William Boyd Dawkins saw the differences in the two genera (in particular focusing on a differing number of digits) as significant as those between Equus and Hipparion, to say that they were quite sufficient for distinction. Harry Seeley acknowledged it in a 1871 paper, calling it "the skeleton Professor Huxley calls Hypsilophodon. Seeley later gave consideration to the differences in the skulls, and took Huxley's side. Fox, on the other hand, rejected Huxley's proposal of a distinct genus for his material, and subsequently took back his skull and gave it to Owen to study, along with some other fragments.
In attempt to clarify the situation, John Whitaker Hulke returned to the Hypsilophodon fossil bed on the Isle of Wight to obtain more material, with particular focus on teeth. He remaked that the whole of the skeleton seemed to be represented there, but the fragility of many elements greatly impeded excavation. He published a description of his new specimens in 1873, and based on his examination of the new teeth fossils echoed Fox's sentiments of doubt about the differences from Iguanodon. He commented that Owen was due to argue for the taxon as a distinct species, but within the genus Iguanodon. This came to pass, and Owen compared at length the teeth of known Iguanodon and those from Fox's specimens. He agreed there were differences, but found them lacking in sufficient distinctiveness to be considered a distinct genus. Regarding Boyd Dawkins' comparison, he acknowledged it, but it did not sway him. As such, he renamed the species Iguanodon foxii.
However, Hulke had, by then, shifted his opinion. He had obtained yet more material from the beds, namely two specimens, one he suspected of being fully grown, which he thought demonstrated the anatomy of the species more clearly than any of the previous ones. Building on Huxley's comments on the Mantell-Bowerbank block, hhe gave focus to vertebral characters. As a result of his study, he retained that Hypsilophodon was definitely a relative oof Iguanodon, but that it seemed to him too different to be retained in the same genus. He published these findings in a supplementary note, also in 1874. Finally, in 1882 he published a full osteology of the species, considering it of great importance to properly document the taxon as such a wealth of specimens had been discovered and comparison with American dinosaurs was necessary (Othniel Charles Marsh had by this point allied the genus to his taxa Nanosaurus, Laosaurus, and Camptosaurus from the United States). Fox had by this point died, and no further argument against generic distinctiveness had occurred in the intervening time.
Later, the number of specimens was increased by Reginald Walter Hooley. In 1905, Baron Franz Nopcsa dedicated a study to Hypsilophodon, and in 1936 William Elgin Swinton did the same, on the occasion of the mounting of two restored skeletons in the British Museum of Natural History. Most known Hypsilophodon specimens were discovered between 1849 and 1921 and are in the possession of the Natural History Museum that acquired the collections of Mantell, Fox, Hulke and Hooley. These represent about twenty individual animals. Apart from the holotype and paratype, the most significant specimens are: NHM R5829, the skeleton of a large animal; NHM R5830 and NHM R196/196a, both skeletons of juvenile animals; and NHM R2477, a block with a skull together with two separate vertebral columns. Although this was the largest find, new ones continue to be made.
Modern research of Hypsilophodon began with the studies of Peter Malcolm Galton, starting with his thesis of 1967. He and James Jensen briefly described a left femur, AMNH 2585, in 1975, and in 1979 formally coined a second species, Hypsilophodon wielandi, for the specimen. The femur was diagnosed with two supposed minor differences from that of H. foxii. The specimen was found in 1900 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, United States, by George Reber Wieland, who the species was named after. Geologically, it comes from the Lakota Sandstone. This species was seen at the time as indicative of a probable late land bridge between North America and Europe, and of the dinosaur fauna of both continents being similar. Spanish Palaeontologist José Ignacio Ruiz-Omeñaca proposed that H. wielandi was not a species of Hypsilophodon but instead related to or synonymous with "Camptosaurus" valdensis from England, both species being dryosaurids. Galton refuted this in his contribution to a 2012 book, noting the femurs of the two species to be quite different, and that of H. wielandi to be unlike those of dryosaurs. He, as well as others studies before and after Ruiz-Omeñaca's proposal, considered H. wielandi a dubious basal ornithopod, with H. foxii the only species in the genus. Galton elaborated on the invalidity of the species in 2009, noting that the two supposed diagnostic characters were variable in both H. foxii and Orodromeus makelai, making the species dubious. He speculated that it may belong to Zephyrosaurus, from a similar time and place, as no femur was known from that taxon.
Fossils from other locations, especially from the mainland of southern Great Britain, Portugal and Spain, have once been referred to Hypsilophodon. However, in 2009 Galton concluded that the specimens from Great Britain proper were either indeterminable or belonged to Valdosaurus, and that the fossils from the rest of Europe were those of related but different species. This leaves the finds on Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, as the only known authentic Hypsilophodon fossils. The fossils have been found in the Hypsilophodon Bed, a one metre thick marl layer surfacing in a 1200 metre long strip along the Cowleaze Chine parallel to the southwest coast of Wight, part of the upper Wessex Formation and dating to the late Barremian, about 126 million years old. Reports that Hypsilophodon would be present in the later Vectis Formation, Galton in 2009 considered as unsubstantiated.
Hypsilophodon was a relatively small dinosaur, though not quite so small as, for example, Compsognathus. For Hypsilophodon often a maximum length of 2.3 metres is stated. This has its origin in a study of 1974 by Galton, in which he extrapolated a length of 2.28 metres based on specimen BMNH R 167, a thigh bone. However, in 2009, Galton concluded that this femur in fact belonged to Valdosaurus and downsized Hypsilophodon to a maximum known length of 1.8 metres, the largest specimen being NHM R5829 with a femur length of 202 millimetres. Typical specimens are about 1.5 metres long. Hypsilophodon would have reached up to half a metre in height. In 2010, Gregory S. Paul estimated a weight of 20 kilograms (44 lb) for an animal two metres in length.
Like most small dinosaurs, Hypsilophodon was bipedal: it ran on two legs. Its entire body was built for running. Numerous anatomical features aided this, such as: light-weight, minimized skeleton, low, aerodynamic posture, long legs, and stiff tail — immobilized by ossified tendons for balance. In light of this, Galton in 1974 concluded it would have been among the ornithischians best adapted to running. Despite living in the last of the periods in which non-avian dinosaurs walked the earth, the Cretaceous, Hypsilophodon had a number of seemingly "primitive" features. For example, there were five digits on each hand and four on each foot. With Hypsilophodon the fifth finger had gained a specialised function: being opposable it could serve to grasp food items.
In an example of primitive anatomy, although it had a beak like most ornithischians, Hypsilophodon still had five pointed triangular teeth in the front of the upper jaw, the premaxilla. Most herbivorous dinosaurs had, by the Early Cretaceous, become sufficiently specialized that the front teeth had been altogether lost (although there is some debate as to whether these teeth may have had a specialized function in Hypsilophodon). More to the back, the upper jaw carried up to eleven teeth in the maxilla; the lower jaw had up to sixteen teeth. The number was variable, depending on the size of the animal. The teeth to the back were fan-shaped.
The skull of Hypsilophodon was short and relatively large. The snout was triangular in outline and sharply pointed, ending in an upper beak of which the cutting edge was markedly lower than the maxillary tooth row. The eye socket was very large. A palpebral with a length equal to half the diameter of the eye socket overshadowed its top section. A sclerotic ring of fifteen small bone plates supported the outer eye surface. The back of the skull was rather high, with a very large and high jugal and quadratojugal closing off a highly positioned small infratemporal fenestra.
The vertebral column consisted of nine cervical vertebrae, fifteen or sixteen dorsal vertebrae, six of five sacral vertebrae and about forty-eight vertebrae of the tail. Much of the back and the tail was stiffened by long ossified tendons connecting the spines on top of the vertebrae. The processes on the underside of the tail vertebrae, the chevrons, were also connected by ossified tendons, which however were of a different form: they were shorter and split and frayed at one end, with the point of the sharp other end laying within the diverging end of the subsequent tendon. Furthermore, there were several counterdirectional rows of these, resulting in a herring-bone pattern completely immobilising the tail end.
A long-lived misconception concerning the anatomy of Hypsilophodon has been that it was armoured. This was first suggested by Hulke in 1874, after the find of a bone plate in the neck region. If so, Hypsilophodon would have been the only known armoured ornithopod. As Galton pointed out in 2008, the putative armour instead appears to be from the torso, an example of internal intercostal plates associated with the rib cage. It consists of thin mineralized circular plates growing from the back end of the middle rib shaft and overlapping the front edge of the subsequent rib. Such plates are better known from Talenkauen and Thescelosaurus, and were probably cartilaginous in origin.
Huxley originally assigned Hypsilophodon to the Iguanodontidae. In 1882 Louis Dollo named a separate Hypsilophodontidae. By the middle of the twentieth century that had become the accepted classification but in the early twenty-first century it became clear through cladistic analysis that hypsilophodontids formed an unnatural, paraphyletic group of successive off-shoots from throughout Neornithischia. Hypsilophodon in the modern view thus simply is a basal ornithopod. In 2017, Daniel Madzia, Clint Boyd, and Martin Mazuch removed Hypsilophodon itself from Ornithopoda altogether, placing it as the sister group to the Cerapoda, in a more basal position; several other "hypsilophodontids" have undergone similar reclassifications. The following cladogram is reproduced from this study:
Due to its small size, Hypsilophodon fed on low-growing vegetation, in view of the pointed snout most likely preferring high quality plant material, such as young shoots and roots, in the manner of modern deer. The structure of its skull, with the teeth set far back into the jaw, strongly suggests that it had cheeks, an advanced feature that would have facilitated the chewing of food. There were twenty-three to twenty-seven maxillary and dentary teeth with vertical ridges in the animal's upper and lower jaws which, due to the fact that the tooth row of the lower jaw, its teeth curving outwards, fitted within that of the upper jaw, with its teeth curving inwards, appear to have been self-sharpening, the occlusion wearing down the teeth and providing for a simple chewing mechanism. As in almost all dinosaurs and certainly all the ornithischians, the teeth were continuously replaced in an alternate arrangement, with the two replacement waves moving from the back to the front of the jaw. The Z(ahnreihen)-spacing, the average distance in tooth position between teeth of the same eruption stage, was rather low with Hyspilophodon, about 2,3. Such a dentition would have allowed to process relatively tough plants.
Early paleontologists modelled the body of this small, bipedal, herbivorous dinosaur in various ways. In 1882 Hulke suggested that Hypsilophodon was quadrupedal but also, in view of its grasping hand, able to climb rocks and trees in order to seek shelter. In 1912 this line of thought was further pursued by Austrian paleontologist Othenio Abel. Concluding that the first toe of the foot could function as an opposable hallux, Abel stated that Hypsilophodon was a fully arboreal animal and even that an arboreal lifestyle was primitive for the dinosaurs as a whole. Though this hypothesis was doubted by Nopcsa, it was adopted by the Danish researcher Gerhard Heilmann who in 1916 proposed that a quadrupedal Hypsilophodon lived like the modern tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus. In 1926 Heilmann had again changed his mind, denying that the first toe was opposable because the first metatarsal was firmly connected to the second, but in 1927 Abel refused to accept this. In this he was in 1936 supported by Swinton who claimed that even a forward pointing first metatarsal might carry a movable toe. As Swinton was a very influential populariser of dinosaurs, this remained the accepted view for over three decades, most books typically illustrating Hypsilophodon sitting on a tree branch. However, Peter M. Galton in 1969 performed a more accurate analysis of the musculo-skeletal structure, showing that the body posture was horizontal. In 1971 Galton in detail refuted Abel's arguments, showing that the first toe had been incorrectly reconstructed and that neither the curvature of the claws, nor the level of mobility of the shoulder girdle or the tail could be seen as adaptations for climbing, concluding that Hypsilophodon was a bipedal running form. This convinced the paleontological community that Hypsilophodon remained firmly on the ground.
The level of parental care in this dinosaur has not been defined, nests not having been found, although neatly arranged nests are known from related species, suggesting that some care was taken before hatching. Though the Hypsilophodon fossils were not part of a single herd, the bones gradually having been accumulated, it has often been considered likely that the animals moved in large groups. For these reasons, the hypsilophodonts, particularly Hypsilophodon, have often been referred to as the "deer of the Mesozoic". Some indications about the reproductive habits are provided by the possibility of sexual dimorphism: Galton considered it likely that exemplars with five instead of six sacral vertebrae — with some specimens the vertebra that should normally count as the first of the sacrum has a rib not touching the pelvis — represented female individuals.
Albertadromeus is an extinct genus of orodromine parksosaurid dinosaur known from the upper part of the Late Cretaceous Oldman Formation (middle Campanian stage) of Alberta, Canada. It contains a single species, Albertadromeus syntarsus.Changchunsaurus
Changchunsaurus (meaning "Changchun lizard") is an extinct genus of small herbivorous parksosaurid dinosaur from Early Cretaceous deposits of Gongzhuling, Jilin, China. It is the first named dinosaur genus from Jilin.Convolosaurus
Convolosaurus (meaning "flocking lizard" after the concentration of juvenile fossils found) is a genus of basal ornithopod dinosaur from the Twin Mountains Formation from Proctor Lake in Comanche County, Texas. The type and only species is Convolosaurus marri.Elasmaria
Elasmaria is a clade of iguanodont ornithopods known from Cretaceous deposits in South America, Antarctica, and Australia.Elrhazosaurus
Elrhazosaurus is a genus of basal iguanodontian dinosaur, known from isolated bones found in Lower Cretaceous rocks of Niger. These bones were initially thought to belong to a species of the related dryosaurid Valdosaurus, but have since been reclassified.Gideonmantellia
Gideonmantellia is an extinct genus of basal ornithopod dinosaur known from the Early Cretaceous (Barremian stage) of Galve, Province of Teruel, Spain. It contains a single species, Gideonmantellia amosanjuanae.Hypsilophodont
Hypsilophodontidae (or Hypsilophodontia) is a traditionally used family of ornithopod dinosaurs, generally considerd invalid today. It historically included taxa from across the world, and spanning from the Middle Jurassic until the Late Cretaceous. This inclusive status was supported by some phylogenetic analyses from the 1990s and mid 2000s, although there have also been many finding that the family is an unnatural grouping which should only include the type genus, Hypsilophodon, with the other genera being within clades like Thescelosauridae. A 2014 analysis by Norman recovered a grouping of Hypsilophodon, Rhabdodontidae and Tenontosaurus, which he referred to as Hypsilophodontia. All other analyses from around the same time have instead found these latter taxa to be within Iguanodontia.Iguanodontia
Iguanodontia (the iguanodonts) is a clade of herbivorous dinosaurs that lived from the Middle Jurassic to Late Cretaceous. Some members include Camptosaurus, Dryosaurus, Iguanodon, Tenontosaurus, and the hadrosaurids or "duck-billed dinosaurs". Iguanodontians were one of the first groups of dinosaurs to be found. They are among the best known of the dinosaurs, and were among the most diverse and widespread herbivorous dinosaur groups of the Cretaceous period.Jeholosauridae
Jeholosaurids were herbivorous neornithischian dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period (Aptian - Santonian, with a possible Campanian record) of Asia. The family was first proposed by Han et al. in 2012. The jeholosaurids were defined as those ornithischians more closely related to Jeholosaurus shangyuanensis than to Hypsilophodon foxii, Iguanodon bernissartensis, Protoceratops andrewsi, Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis, or Thescelosaurus neglectus. The Jeholosauridae includes the type genus Jeholosaurus and Yueosaurus.Morrosaurus
Morrosaurus is an extinct genus of herbivorous ornithischian dinosaur member of the Euornithopoda, that lived in the late Cretaceous in the Antarctica. The only known species is the type Morrosaurus antarcticus.Neornithischia
Neornithischia ("new ornithischians") is a clade of the dinosaur order Ornithischia. They are the sister group of the Thyreophora within the clade Genasauria. Neornithischians are united by having a thicker layer of asymmetrical enamel on the inside of their lower teeth. The teeth wore unevenly with chewing and developed sharp ridges that allowed neornithischians to break down tougher plant food than other dinosaurs. Neornithischians include a variety of basal forms historically known as "hypsilophodonts", including the Parksosauridae; in addition, there are derived forms classified in the groups Marginocephalia and Ornithopoda. The former includes clades Pachycephalosauria and Ceratopsia, while the latter typically includes Hypsilophodon and the more derived Iguanodontia.Notohypsilophodon
Notohypsilophodon (meaning "southern Hypsilophodon") is a genus of euornithopod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Argentina. It was described as the only "hypsilophodont" known from South America, although this assessment is not universally supported, and Gasparinisaura is now believed to have been a basal euornithopod as well.Ornithopoda
Ornithopods () or members of the clade Ornithopoda ( or ) are a group of ornithischian dinosaurs that started out as small, bipedal running grazers, and grew in size and numbers until they became one of the most successful groups of herbivores in the Cretaceous world, and dominated the North American landscape. Their major evolutionary advantage was the progressive development of a chewing apparatus that became the most sophisticated ever developed by a non-avian dinosaur, rivaling that of modern mammals such as the domestic cow. They reached their apex in the duck-bills (hadrosaurs), before they were wiped out by the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event along with all other non-avian dinosaurs. Members are known from all seven continents, though they are generally rare in the Southern Hemisphere.Parksosaurus
Parksosaurus (meaning "William Parks's lizard") is a genus of hypsilophodont ornithopod dinosaur from the early Maastrichtian-age Upper Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Alberta, Canada. It is based on most of a partially articulated skeleton and partial skull, showing it to have been a small, bipedal, herbivorous dinosaur. It is one of the few described non-hadrosaurid ornithopods from the end of the Cretaceous in North America, existing around 70 million years ago.Talenkauen
Talenkauen (meaning "small skull" in Aonikenk, referring to the proportionally small skull) is a genus of basal iguanodont dinosaur from the Cenomanian-age Late Cretaceous Cerro Fortaleza Formation, formerly known as the Pari Aike Formation of Patagonian Lake Viedma in the Austral Basin of Santa Cruz, Argentina. It is based on MPM-10001, a partial articulated skeleton missing the rear part of the skull, the tail, and the hands. Its most unusual feature is the presence of several thin mineralized plates along the sides of the ribs.Thescelosaurus
Thescelosaurus ( THESS-il-ə-SOR-əs; ancient Greek θέσκελος-/theskelos- meaning "godlike", "marvelous", or "wondrous" and σαυρος/sauros "lizard") was a genus of small ornithopod dinosaur that appeared at the very end of the Late Cretaceous period in North America. It was a member of the last dinosaurian fauna before the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event around 66 million years ago. The preservation and completeness of many of its specimens indicate that it may have preferred to live near streams.
This bipedal ornithopod is known from several partial skeletons and skulls that indicate it grew to between 2.5 and 4.0 meters (8.2 to 13.1 ft) in length on average. It had sturdy hind limbs, small wide hands, and a head with an elongate pointed snout. The form of the teeth and jaws suggest a primarily herbivorous animal. This genus of dinosaur is regarded as a specialized basal ornithopod, traditionally described as a hypsilophodont, but more recently recognized as distinct from Hypsilophodon. Several species have been suggested for this genus. Three currently are recognized as valid: the type species T. neglectus, T. garbanii and T. assiniboiensis.
The genus attracted media attention in 2000, when a specimen unearthed in 1993 in South Dakota, United States, was interpreted as including a fossilized heart. There was much discussion over whether the remains were of a heart. Many scientists now doubt the identification of the object and the implications of such an identification.Trinisaura
Trinisaura is an extinct genus of ornithopod dinosaur known from the lower levels of the Late Cretaceous Snow Hill Island Formation (lower Campanian stage) of James Ross Island, Antarctica. It contains a single species, Trinisaura santamartaensis.The species was in 2013 named by Rodolfo Aníbal Coria e.a. The generic name honours the geologist Trinidad Diaz. The specific name refers to the Santa Marta Cove site where the specimen was in 2008 found by Coria and Juan José Moly. That same year, the find was reported in the scientific literature.The holotype, MLP-III-1-1, consists of a partial skeleton lacking the skull, of a subadult individual about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in length.Valdosaurus
Valdosaurus ("Weald Lizard") is a genus of bipedal herbivorous iguanodont ornithopod dinosaur found on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere in England. It lived during the Early Cretaceous.Xiaosaurus
Xiaosaurus ("dawn lizard", ), is a genus of small herbivorous dinosaur from the middle Jurassic, approximately 169 to 163 mya. Xiaosaurus lived in what is now the Sichuan Basin of China.
In 1979 and 1980, two specimens were discovered of a small herbivorous dinosaur during excavations near Dashanpu in Sichuan. In 1983 Dong Zhiming and Tang Zilu named the fossils under the type species Xiaosaurus dashanpensis. The generic name is derived from Chinese xiáo, 曉, "dawn", a reference to the age of the fossil. The specific name refers to Danshanpu.The holotype, IVPP V6730A, was found in the lower Xiashaximiao Formation of which the age is uncertain: both the Bajocian and the Bathonian–Callovian have been proposed. It consists of a partial skeleton including a jaw fragment with a single tooth, two cervical vertebrae, four caudal vertebrae, a humerus, a partial left femur and a complete right hindlimb. The paratype IVPP V6730B is a second partial skeleton including a right femur, a dorsal vertebra, two sacral vertebrae, a phalanx, a rib and two teeth.
In 1992 Peng Guangzhao renamed Agilisaurus multidens He & Cai 1983 (now Hexinlusaurus) into a second species of Xiaosaurus: Xiaosaurus multidens, but this has not been accepted.
Xiaosaurus was a small bipedal animal with an estimated length of one metre. The femur is 11 centimetres (4.3 in) long.
The remains are too fragmentary to easily classify the genus. The describers assigned it both to the Fabrosauridae and the Hypsilophodontidae, considering it an evolutionary link between Lesothosaurus and Hypsilophodon. Xiaosaurus has sometimes been considered a nomen dubium and an ornithischian of uncertain affinities, possibly a basal cerapod or marginocephalian. However, Paul Barrett et al. in 2005 concluded it to be provisionally valid, as it possessed a single unique derived trait or autapomorphy: a mediolaterally (seen from the front) straight humerus.