Meet Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a newly described dinosaur discovered by a seven-year-old boy in Chile. The theropod was related to famous meat-eaters like T. rex, but researchers think it was a vegetarian. Stranger still: It possessed a mixture of anatomical features unlike anything researchers have seen before.
Illustrations by paleoartist Gabriel Lio via University of Birmingham
This new dinosaur is not only a new species, it’s an entirely new genus. Called Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, it’s named after the country where it was discovered and in honor of the boy, Diego Suárez, who found the remains while visiting the Toqui Formation in Aysén with his parents. The bones of several individuals, including four complete skeletons, were analyzed by paleontologists from the University of Birmingham and the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The results of their work now appear in the journal Nature.
Chilesaurus was a theropod, a group of dinos that included the meat-eating Velociraptor, Carnotaurus and Tyrannosaurus. Until this discovery, the only known plant-eating theropods were those closely related to birds.
“The discovery of Chilesaurus lends support to the interpretation that dietary diversification towards herbivory was more common-place among basal theropods than previously thought,” write the researchers in the study.
Chilesaurus is interesting in other ways as well. Dating back 145-million years to the Jurassic Period, it was about the size of a turkey, with some individuals growing as long as 10 feet (3 meters). It featured a proportionally small skull and its feet resembled those of more primitive, long-necked dinosaurs. It’s also the first complete Jurassic-era dinosaur ever found in Chile.
Chilesaurus possesses physical characteristics similar to those observed in a variety of other species—an observation that led paleontologists to refer to the dinosaur in a statement as a kind of “platypus.” Indeed, this creature is an excellent example of convergent evolution at work, or in this particular case, an example of mosaic convergent evolution.
“Chilesaurus represents an extreme case of mosaic evolution among dinosaurs, owing to the presence of [certain] dental, cranial and postcranial features,” write the scientists.
Mosaic convergent evolution happens when a single species evolves multiple characteristics that also appear independently across different species. For example, the newly described dinosaur had strong forearms like the Allosaurus, but a pelvis similar to ornithischian dinosaurs, such as Stegosaurus and Ceratopsians.
“Chilesaurus illustrates how much relevant data on the early diversification of major dinosaur clades remain unknown,” conclude the authors. “It also provides an important cautionary benchmark in our attempts to gain a reliable view of the overall evolutionary history of Dinosauria.”
Read the entire study at Nature: “An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile”.
Image credits: University of Birmingham