In February 2004 Diego Suarez, then aged 7, was hiking with his parents in southern Chile when he found a few interesting bones. His parents are geologists and, realising that the bones belonged to a dinosaur, began to search the site for more. Since then bones from at least a dozen specimens of this unusual dinosaur have been found, including 4 nearly complete skeletons. Scientists published the details of their discovery this week and have acknowledged Diego’s contribution by naming the dinosaur after him!
Chilesaurus diegosuarezi is a particularly interesting dinosaur because it looks like a mixture of several other species. It’s thought to have lived around 145 million years ago and measured 3 metres from nose to tail. It belongs to the therapod group of dinosaurs, which includes the Tyrannosaurus, Spinosaurus and Velociraptor, but its flat teeth, small head, long neck and horny beak show that it was a herbivore (a plant-eater). It balanced on its strong hind legs like a Tyrannosaurus and has short arms like an Allosaurus, but with only 2 fingers on each forelimb. The team of Chilean and Argentinian scientists who excavated the site have said that if they hadn’t found the skeletons intact they would have thought that the bones were from a jumble of different species.
This interesting dinosaur is a good example of convergent evolution. This is when animals from different species evolve the same traits because they live in similar habitats and encounter similar problems that they need to overcome. For example, Chilesaurus may have evolved its powerful back legs in order to travel quickly, while its long neck and head are similar to the plant-eating sauropods like Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus. It has even been suggested that therapods who evolved to eat plants instead of meat may be linked to the only group of therapod dinosaurs that exist today – birds.