Chilesaurus: 'Frankenstein' dinosaur may be missing link between plant-eaters and predators, say scientists

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A “Frankenstein” dinosaur with a mix of different features may have been the missing link between plant-eaters and predators, scientists have claimed.

Chilesaurus, discovered in Chile in 2004, was originally thought to be a vegetarian member of the theropods, the family of two-legged meat eaters that included T rex and Velociraptor.

Now new research suggests that it belonged to a completely different group, the ornithischia, and was related to famous plant eaters Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Iguanadon.

The 150 million-year-old Chilean oddity, whose carnivore-like head was filled with flat plant-grinding teeth, may have bridged the gap between theropods and ornithischians, evidence suggests.

Professor Paul Barrett, one of the scientists from London’s Natural History Museum, said: “Chilesaurus is one of the most puzzling and intriguing dinosaurs ever discovered.

“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.”

The Chilesaurus was originally thought to be from the same family as T Rex (pictured) (AP)

The researchers analysed more than 450 anatomical characteristics of early dinosaurs to find Chilesaurus’s correct place in the dinosaur family tree.

Their findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Key traits of ornithischians include a bird-like hip structure and a beak-like jaw.

While Chilesaurus had classic ornithischian hips it lacked the distinctive beak and its mouth parts resembled those of a meat eater, minus carnivore teeth.

Lead author Matthew Baron, a PhD student at Cambridge University’s Department of Earth Sciences, said: “Chilesaurus almost looks like it was stitched together from different animals, which is why it baffled everybody.

“There was a split in the dinosaur family tree, and the two branches took different evolutionary directions.

“This seems to have happened because of change in diet for Chilesaurus.

“It seems it became more advantageous for some of the meat eating dinosaurs to start eating plants, possibly even out of necessity.”


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