Baffled bone boffins are puzzled by the discovery of a diminutive new vegetarian dino in Chile which, they say, was closely related to the infamous meat-eating Tyrannosaurus rex.
Chilesaurus diegosuarezi. Image credit: University of Birmingham
Specimens of the weird, dwarfish Jurassic beast, dubbed Chilesaurus diegosuarezi and nicknamed platypus, reveal that the freshly-unearthed dinosaur was typically the size of a turkey, though some grew to around three metres long.
According to Chilean and Argentinian paleontologists, whose paper An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile was published in the Nature journal on Monday, the platypus discovery shows that a meat-free diet was acquired much earlier than had been previously thought.
Martín Ezcurra, a science researcher at the University of Birmingham, said:
Chilesaurus can be considered a "platypus" dinosaur because different parts of its body resemble those of other dinosaur groups due to mosaic convergent evolution.
In this process, a region or regions of an organism resemble others of unrelated species because of a similar mode of life and evolutionary pressures. Chilesaurus provides a good example of how evolution works in deep time and it is one of the most interesting cases of convergent evolution documented in the history of life.
The platypus was found to have a mixture of "bizarre" characteristics from different dino groups, the boffins noted, including a small skull and two T-rex-like fingers.
Brilliantly, the fossil remains of the small, plant-eating dino were apparently dug up by a 7-year-old kid named Diego Suárez, who was at the Toqui Formation in Aysén, south of Chilean Patagonia with his parents – Chilean geologists Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz.
Lead researcher Dr Fernando Novas from the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, said:
"The recurrent discovery in beds of the Toqui Formation of its bones and skeletons clearly demonstrates that Chilesaurus was, by far, the most abundant dinosaur in southwest Patagonia 145 million years ago." ®