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You know what, right when you think science can’t throw you any more surprises; science comes up to you, grabs you by the neck, slaps you across the face seventeen times and leaves you on the floor with a stunned look.
Bow to your God.
I honestly thought I knew what the next big surprise in dinosaur paleontology would be. I figured it would be something like feather preservations on a hadrosaur or baby sauropod. Whatever the case may be, my only thought was more feathers. Feathers feathers feathers. Nothing but feathers. I thought that was the only place we had left to go; which new dinosaurs had feathers and how much did they have.
But then science decides to give us all collective heart attacks.
Within the last month, not only has Brontosaurus regained it’s status as a valid genus (more on that later) but within the past FEW WEEKS we have discovered two dinosaurs that challenge our very notion of what dinosaurs are. Two new creatures that are unlike anything we have ever seen before.
Things just got crazy nuts man.
Meet Chilesaurus, a dinosaur that was discovered at a Chili’s restaurant next to the freshly salted french fry batch (JK, discovered in Chile, South America). Looking at this image alone you would think it was just an fairly average dinosaur, interesting but unremarkable. However, what makes this dinosaur incredible is the fact that it was a theropod, a group of dinosaurs known to be primarily meat eaters (pretty much exclusively meat eaters in the Jurassic Period, the time period this species inhabited), but it had the teeth and beak of a plant eater.
Now, plant eating theropods are not unheard of. The beak structure of oviraptorsaurs and ornithomimids suggest at least an omnivorous diet, and the strange therizinosaurs are known to be exclusive plant eaters.
Therizinosaurus, a late Cretaceous theropod, feeding on plants.
Therizinosaurs were the first examples science had that theropods could be more then predatory killing machines, and they certainly shook the paleontology community when this was first made apparent. But what makes therizinosaurs different is the fact that they have a definite lineage. We know more or less the point where this particular line of dinosaurs diverged from small meat eater to their future as large lumbering vegetarians.
Falcarius, an early therizinosaur ancestor that still carried carnivorous (or omnivorous) traits.
The thing about Chileosaurus is that it seems to have come out of nowhere. There is literally nothing else like it in the fossil record, both in it’s time and later. Some are going as far to say that this is the platypus of dinosaurs, and that this body design is as incredible as a wild cat with a deer’s head. Now, I would’t go that far, but this find still presents us with an incredible new look at theropod diversity. Was this just a one time evolutionary ‘dead end’ that didn’t go anywhere, or where vegetarian theropods more common than we once thought?
As amazing as that discovery is, it pails in comparison to the Chinese Yi qi.
No, this isn’t some fantasy illustration, this is a real creature. Li qi is a bird-like dinosaur with bat-like wings. Despite being the size of a pigeon, it was basically a dinosaurian dragon.
Now, why would an animal with feathers develop wings made out of skin? Was this another evolutionary ‘dead end’ or are there perhaps other dinosaurs that shared this feature? Do we need to take another look at similarly long fingered Epidexipteryx and change it’s look a little bit?
Maybe we should add a bit of webbing in there?
Does this mean there is an alternate dimension out there where the webbed wing look actually took off and dinosaurs actually evolved into dragons?
A man can only dream.
In the end, these discoveries further prove how little we know about dinosaurs. In fact, the true extent of dinosaur diversity may be lost to us forever. But if we continue to find incredible specimens like this that fuel our love and drive us to keep finding answers, I have high hopes for the future of paleontology. I just can’t wait to see what we find next.