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Bizarre New Dinosaur Discovered in Chile

Gabriel Lio / University of Birmingham via Discovery.com

From the club-tailed Ankylosaurus to the long-necked Brachiosaurus, dinosaurs came in countless shapes and sizes. An especially diverse suborder is called the “theropoda.” The phrase “meat-eating dinosaur” usually refers to some sort of theropod, such as T. rex or Velociraptor. And yet, not all of these guys were built to dine on flesh. The ostrich-like ornithomimids, for example, seem to have had herbivorous dietary preferences, as evidenced by some tantalizing stomach contents discovered millions of years later. Therizinosaurs were also predominantly plant-eaters (as well as scythe-clawed weirdos).

Today, an exciting paper published in Nature has unveiled a strange new theropod, whose carnivorous ancestors decided, at some point, to go vegetarian.

According to Argentinian paleontologist Fernando Novas, the Chilesaurus diegosuarezi's small, leaf-shaped chompers reveal that the bipedal beast was “a strict plant-eater.” One hundred and forty five million years ago, Chilesaurus roamed present-day Patagonia—hence, the name's Chile prefix—a region that has become world-famous as a treasure trove for dinosaur fossils. (The "Diego" included in the second part of the dinosaur's tag is for a 7-year-old named Diego Suarez, who, in 2004, discovered fossilized bones belonging to the creature while visiting the Andes with his parents, geologists Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz.)

By herbivorous theropod standards, Chilesaurus is fairly unusual, as the varieties mentioned above emerged tens of millions of years after this little critter evolved. When it first showed up, only a few other theropods had made the switch to a plant-eating lifestyle (among them: China’s birdlike Limusaurus). 

In addition to its distinctive dental anatomy, Chilesaurus’ features included a beak, a small, rounded skull, and modest forelimbs topped with two clawed fingers apiece. 

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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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iStock

Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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Feathers, Fighting, and Feet: A Brief History of Dinosaur Art
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of the first-known works of dinosaur art was The country of the Iguanodon, an 1837 watercolor by John Martin. It depicts the ancient reptiles as giant iguanas, thrashing and fighting near a stone quarry—a far cry from today's sophisticated 3D renderings.

By watching the PBS Eons video below, you can learn how our image of dinosaurs has changed over the centuries, thanks to artworks based on new scientific discoveries and fossil findings. Find out why artists decided to give the prehistoric creatures either feathers or scales, make them either active or sluggish, present them as walking on two or four feet, and to imagine tails that either dragged or lifted, among other features.

Keep in mind, however, that both emerging technologies and new findings are constantly changing the way scientists view dinosaurs. A new species, on average, is named every two weeks—and this research will likely keep artists busy (and constantly revising their work) for years to come.

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