Puzzling 'missing link' dinosaur was early plant eater

Rodiano Bonacci
Agosto 16, 2017

Those scientists deduced that it was a member of the largely carnivorous "theropod" family that had evolved a subsequent penchant for vegetarianism. And that is important because it could bridge a gap that was previously a mystery to scientists.

A vegetarian dinosaur resembling a pug-faced velociraptor could be the missing link between herbivores such as triceratops and carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus rex, researchers believe.

Scientists believe to have finally found a place for the freaky Chilesaurus.

But even finding that classification was hard. For instance, its head looks like that of a carnivore, but instead of sharp teeth it had the flat teeth that are typically used to chew plants.

And now scientists have decided that it in fact belongs to its own group, the ornithischia, and that it was a relative of famous plant-eating dinosaurs like the Stegosaurus and Iguanadon.

The findings suggest that Chilesaurus fills a significant gap between two of the primary dinosaur groups, and reveal how the divide between them may have occurred.

"Chilesaurus nearly looks like it was stitched together from different animals, which is why it baffled everybody", says Matthew Baron, joint first author of the study.

But that unusual mix was exactly what made it so important, according to Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, who worked on the research.

"Chilesaurus is one of the most puzzling and intriguing dinosaurs ever discovered", said study co-author Paul Barrett, of the Natural History Museum in London. "Its weird mix of features places it in a key position in dinosaur evolution and helps to show how some of the really big splits between the major groups might have come about".

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London Natural History Museum shook up the dinosaur family tree, which had stood nearly unchanged for over a century. That allowed them to match it with other species and find its place in the family tree. "Before this, there were no transitional specimens - we did not know what order these characteristics evolved in", said Baron. "This shows that in bird-hipped dinosaurs, the gut evolved first, and the jaws evolved later".

Back in 2015, scientists first found and described the fossils of a freaky species of dinosaur, which they named the Chilesaurus.

The study is the most thorough yet attempt to understand how Chilesaurus fits into the dinosaur family tree, says Andy Farke, a palaeontologist at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California. "This seems to have happened because of change in diet for Chilesaurus".

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