T. rex's Strange, Plant-Eating Cousin is a Patchwork of Dinosaur Parts
It may look a bit like the popular Tyrannosaurus rex, but this dinosaur is far from being a carnivore. The newly-discovered, platypus-like dinosaur is a bit of an evolutionary jigsaw puzzle, since it preferred to graze on plants.
The new dinosaur is called Chilesaurus diegosuarezi. It has a bizarre combination of characteristics, like a platypus, that actually resemble different dinosaur groups. While it has a proportionally small skull and hands with two fingers, like the Tyrannosaurus rex, it also has feet that are more similar to primitive long-neck dinosaurs.
Because of the dinosaur's unusual characteristics, researchers first thought that several dinosaurs had been uncovered. Since the initial find, though, more than a dozen specimens have been excavated. This, in turn, showed scientists that this dinosaur was a single creature.
Chilesaurus grew to be about three meters long and thrived during the Jurassic period about 145 million years ago. With the bones and skeletons found, it's obvious that this dinosaur was, by far, the most abundant dinosaur in southwest Patagonia during that time. Feeding on plants, it's an extreme example of mosaic convergent evolution.
"Chilesaurus can be considered a 'platypus' dinosaur because different parts of its body resemble those of other dinosaur groups due to mosaic convergent evolution," said Martin Ezcurra, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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 is one of the most interesting cases of convergent evolution documented in the history of life."
The findings are published in the journal Nature.
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