The legendary Bigfoot is often described as the "missing link" between apes and man, but the Chilesaurus has an edge on Bigfoot: it is the missing link between herbivore dinosaurs and their carnivorous brethren.
In a new study done by the University of Cambridge, Chilesaurus, which lived 150 million years ago, scientists now believe the dinosaur is an early member of the "Ornithischia," a "bird-hipped" group that includes dinosaurs such as the Stegosaurus and Iguanadon.
Researchers found that the Chilesaurus has the same inverted hip structure of the Ornithischia group, which aids in complex digestive systems. But it also lacks the beak Ornithischia dinosaurs used for eating.
“Chilesaurus almost looks like it was stitched together from different animals, which is why it baffled everybody,” said Matthew Baron, a doctoral student in Cambridge University's Department of Earth Sciences and the paper’s joint first author, in a statement.
The dino, which has been described as ‘Frankenstein’s monster,’ confused scientists because it had a head that "resembles that of a carnivore, but it has flat teeth for grinding up plant matter," according to a press release, discussing the findings.
The researchers analyzed more than 450 anatomical characteristics of early dinosaurs to come up with the placement.
Chilesaurus originally belonged to the group Theropoda, ‘lizard-hipped’ group of dinosaurs which includes Tyrannosaurus rex.
"Before this, there were no transitional specimens – we didn’t know what order these characteristics evolved in,” Baron added. “This shows that in bird-hipped dinosaurs, the gut evolved first, and the jaws evolved later – it fills the gap quite nicely.”
“Chilesaurus is one of the most puzzling and intriguing dinosaurs ever discovered,” said co-author Professor Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London. “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 latest findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.