Although one would expect that eye-opening discoveries, such as that of a new vegetarian dinosaur, would belong to world-renowned palaeontologists, reality often enjoys defying our prejudices. This is precisely the case of the Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a rather odd theropod discovered by a 7-year-old boy.
Closely related to the vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Chilesaurus boasts an extremely bizarre mixture of features. Both its small skull and feet make this remarkable creature akin to long-necked dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs such as the Velociraptor, the Tyrannosaurus or the Spinosaurus are all theropods and until recently, the term “theropod” almost exclusively applied to meat-eating dinosaurs. It’s only recent discoveries that began contradicting initial beliefs, as palaeontologists began discovering other dinosaurs whose traits suggested their preferences towards plants.
Surprising Discovery of a New Dinosaur
The Chilesaurus diegosuarezi’s discovery was somewhat unexpected, especially because of the discoverer himself. Diego Suarez, the 7-year-old boy who found the odd-looking bones during a hiking trip, is the son of Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz. The two are geologists who immediately realised the importance of their son’s find.
During the hiking trip at the Aysen Toqui Formation, just south of Chilean Patagonia, Diego found the remains of what has now become the Chilesaurus among rocks deposited more than 145 million years ago.
What the boy had found were rib fragments as well as a vertebra. Soon, the entire family began scouring the Chilean hillside for additional bone fragments of the little dinosaur.
More than a decade after Diego’s initial discovery, other specimens have been unearthed, allowing Fernando Novas and his team to announce this plant-eating theropod in the scientific journal Nature.
Chilesaurus Bizarre Traits
According to palaeontologists’ descriptions of the tiny creature, the Chilesaurus diegosuarezi is what is known as a “platypus dinosaur”. Such a trait mix (that of a duck, otter and beaver) is clearly among nature’s most unlikely combinations.
Though a clear relative of the T-Rez, the Chilesaurus is not as scary, especially since it prefers plants to meat. It showcases the species-characteristic short arms, long neck, leaf-shaped teeth and proportionally small head.
Much like its T-Rex cousin, the Chilesaurus also had three thick-fingers but only two claws. Its robust forelimbs are similar to those of other Jurassic theropods (the ALlosaurus, for instance). The Chilesaurus also displayed particularities of its pelvic-girdle, which was like that of ornithischian dinosaurs. A full-grown Chilesaurus diegosuarezi would reach a height of ten feet.
New Insights as to Herbivorous Theropods
Palaeontologists concluded that the Chilesaurus’ body parts were perfectly adapted to the animal’s distinct feeding habits and way of life. Consequently, some regions of the tiny dinosaur’s body ended up resembling those body parts of unrelated dinosaurs in a marvellous depiction of a phenomenon called evolutionary convergence.
According to Novas, the Chilesaurus’ distinct features clearly show that the dinosaur was a “strict plant eater.” Such a discovery is particularly valuable since it suggests that a meat-free diet may have been acquired much earlier than scientist initially believed.
More importantly, such a cross-over towards an omnivorous and finally herbivorous diet occurred independently among dinosaurs. Different species of ornithomimids, oviraptorosaurs as well as therizinosaurs all began developing herbivorous-tending lifestyles during the Cretaceous.
Initially, the top contender for the title of first ever herbivorous theropod was the Limusaurus. This turkey-sized dinosaur lived approximately 150-million-years ago and had a distinct beak which suggested that the animal pecked at fern fronds. But now, with the discovery of the Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, the Limusaurus finally has a competitor for its title.
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