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Temporal range: Early Jurassic
L. diagnosticus Galton, 1978
Lesothosaurus is a member of the herbivorous clade of dinosaurs, the Ornithischia. It was named by paleontologist Peter M. Galton in 1978, the name meaning "lizard from Lesotho". The genus is monotypic, meaning there is only one valid species, Lesothosaurus diagnosticus, within the genus.
Lesothosaurus was originally considered an ornithopod. However, more recent work by Paul Sereno has suggested that it may actually represent one of the most primitive of all known ornithischian dinosaurs. The taxonomic history of Lesothosaurus is complex and it has long been confused with Fabrosaurus, another small ornithischian from the same locality. In 2005, Richard J. Butler published a new phylogenetic study of ornithischians, in which he proposed that Lesothosaurus was a basal member of the clade Neornithischia, which includes pachycephalosaurs, ceratopsians and ornithopods. It is believed to have been a precursor to the later hypsilophodonts and later ornithopod dinosaurs. It is considered less primitive than Pisanosaurus, but less advanced than Heterodontosaurus.
Lesothosaurus was a small (one meter in length), bipedal plant-eater. Skeletal remains suggest that it was a fast runner; it would have resembled a large lizard walking bipedally.
The small skull of Lesothosaurus was short and flat, with large eye sockets. It had large cavities for the eye and jaw muscles. It had a short, pointed snout, and the lower jaw may have ended in a beak. The skull was mounted on a short neck.
The hind limbs of Lesothosaurus were much longer than the forelimbs, which were quite short with small, five-fingered 'hands'. The length of the rear legs indicates Lesothosaurus was a fast, agile runner. The distinctive femur has a unique femoral head not seen in other dinosaurs.
Lesothosaurus lived in the hot, arid conditions of Lesotho and South Africa, during the Early Jurassic. Remains of Lesothosaurus have been collected from the Upper Elliot Formation, dating it to the Hettangian to Sinemurian portions of the Early Jurassic.