A dinosaur that puzzled researchers thanks to the incredibly puzzling design of its body finally has its place in history thanks to a team of scientists from Cambridge and the Natural History Museum in London. The Chilesaurus, which has been nicknamed the “Frankenstein dinosaur” due to it appearing as though it were patched together from other, unrelated dinosaur species, has now been labeled a transitional species that helps to bridge the gap between herbivorous dinosaurs and the more iconic meat-eaters like the Tyrannosaurus rex.
After its fossils were initially discovered, Chilesaurus was thought to be a part of the Theropod group of dinos — which includes the T. rex— due to its advanced digestive system. Those creatures, which are considered “lizard-hipped,” were carnivores, but the Chilesaurus didn’t appear to be particularly well-suited for consuming meat.
After extensive examination of the fossils, the researchers are now declaring that Chilesaurus was in fact a plant eater. As it turns out, the puzzling creature is actually a member of the group called Ornithischia — meaning “bird-hipped” — dinosaurs that also includes recognizable herbivores like the Stegosaurus and Triceratops. The team believes Chilesaurus was a essentially a stepping stone between the two groups, acting as a branching-off point.
“Before this, there were no transitional specimens — we didn’t know what order these characteristics evolved in,” Matthew Baron, Cambridge Ph.D. student and contributing author of the study, said of the research. “This shows that in bird-hipped dinosaurs, the gut evolved first, and the jaws evolved later — it fills the gap quite nicely.”