Early snake had ankles and toes

What a difference 128 million years can make. According to research published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, the original snake ancestor was a night hunter and came equipped with tiny hindlimbs complete with toes and ankles. Additionally, the new findings also support the thesis that snakes originated on land and not in the sea, which has been a hot debate amongst researchers.

“This study is a big deal in the world of snakes because it’s the first comprehensive analytical study of early snake evolutionary history,” lead study author Allison Hsiang of Yale University told Foxnews.com. “That is, even though snake origins have been debated and studied for a long time, this is first time all of these big questions have been tested computationally using cutting-edge methods.”

Hsiang and her team utilized these cutting–edge techniques to analyze the genes, fossils, and anatomy of 73 snake and lizard species. By identifying which traits the species did and didn’t share, the team was able to construct via computer a large family tree displaying all of the major characteristics that have taken hold as snakes evolved throughout history.

Related: ‘Dementor’ wasp turns cockroaches into zombies

“To build a phylogenetic tree, we used recently developed computational methods to analyze genetic and anatomical data from living snakes with data from fossil snakes simultaneously,” Hsiang explained. “The tree was then used to reconstruct the evolutionary history of our traits of interest.”

With the new data, the team was then able to then generate a picture of what the snakes’ original ancestor was like – a predator who hunted soft-bodied vertebrate and invertebrate prey under the cover of night.

Though it could also target larger animals, the prehistoric snake had yet to develop the ability to manipulate or constrict its larger prey, like the Boa Constrictors of today. And while it remains unknown how large the Mesozoic slitherer was (Hsiang and her team didn’t analyze the body size), the new research does indicate that its hindlimbs wouldn’t have been much help in terms of getting around.

Related: Newly discovered Costa Rican glass frog species is a Kermit look-alike

“Regarding the hindlimbs, it’s unlikely that the ancestor of living snakes was using [them] for locomotion at all – more likely they were just vestigial appendages,” she said. “Even if they were using them for locomotion, however, I wouldn’t be able to say how fast they moved – that sort of thing is very difficult to reconstruct.”

As to whether or not the creature was venomous, Hsiang said that in evolutionary terms it may have been.  “Based on other studies using genetic data, it’s a possibility, as it’s hypothesized that venom evolved once within lizards as a whole, before the lineage leading to snakes diverged from their closest lizard ancestors.”

According to the study, the ancestral snake most likely originated on the supercontinent Laurasia during the middle Early Cretaceous period. While many scientists believe that snakes evolved in the sea, this new research would suggest otherwise.

However, according to Hsiang, her team’s findings won’t be putting  an end to that argument anytime soon: “This is actually still an ongoing debate, and I wouldn’t say our study definitely answers the question, but it does add more evidence to the ‘snakes evolved on land’ side,” she told FoxNews.com.

The ‘snakes evolved in the seas’ argument is based on the hypothesis that snakes are closely related to an extinct group of marine lizards known as mosasaurs, Hsiang explained. “In this interpretation, the snake body plan, loss of eyelids, and lack of external ears are adaptations for living in water, as opposed to being adaptations for a burrowing (i.e., fossorial) lifestyle, as those who believe snakes evolved on land would argue,” she added.

 

Originally posted here : http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/05/29/early-snake-had-ankles-and-toes/?intcmp=features

Massive 7-foot-long eel caught in UK almost breaks record

conger-eel

A 7-foot-long (2.1 meters) conger eel was caught off the southwestern coast of the United Kingdom near Devon. (Plymouth Fisheries)

A silvery-gray conger eel had already gone limp by the time fishermen found it on their trawler, but its shocking length of 7 feet still caught them off guard, according to the British company that found the huge eel.

Fishermen mistakenly snagged the blue-eyed eel May 14 off the southwestern coast of the United Kingdom. At the time, they were trawling the area (i.e., dragging nets to catch fish) on an inshore trawler named Hope. The conger eel got stuck in the nets, and was already dead by the time the fishermen hauled it aboard, according to the company, Plymouth Fisheries.

Immediately, the fishermen were impressed by its length. [Photos: The Freakiest-Looking Fish]

“I was stunned because it was so huge,” Scott Govier, a commercial fisherman with Plymouth Fisheries, told the U.K. tabloid the Daily Express. “It was already dead when we pulled it up, else we would have thrown him back in and let him live.”

In fact, the eel narrowly missed setting a U.K. record. Once gutted, it weighed 131 lbs., just shy of the 133.25-lb. record for a rod-caught conger eel.

Before it was gutted, the eel likely weighed between 155 and 160 lbs., Plymouth Fisheries said.

“Conger does not have a great deal of commercial value today, as prices have dropped. But this was an impressive fish, and a catch to make any angler’s day,” Pete Bromley, manager of Plymouth Fisheries, said in a statement.Typically, conger eels are inexpensive, but the massive catch brought in about 40 British pounds (about $63) when it was sold at an auction in Plymouth, the company said.

“Conger move to very deep water and die after spawning, so like all large congers caught off the Southwest Approaches [the waters off the U.K.’s southwestern coast], this fish is likely to be an unspawned female,” he added.

Conger eels are typically found hiding among the Southwest’s many wrecks, or on reefs and rocky ground, “but they do venture out to open ground in search of food, usually during neap tides or slack water,” Bromley said. However, “despite their size and power, they are not very strong swimmers,” he added.

A photo the company posted on Twitter initially made the fish look much longer than 7 feet, but two additional photos — including one comparing the conger eel to a man holding another eel, and another of the fish on a pallet — later provided a better perspective.

“The chap standing next to it is around 5 foot, 7 inches tall, and we estimated the conger eel to be around 7 feet in length,” Bromley said. “Our second photo showing it lying on a pallet also makes this clear, as this pallet is only 1 meter by 1.2 meters [3.2 feet by 3.9 feet] in size.”

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

 

Originally posted here : http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/05/18/massive-7-foot-long-eel-caught-in-uk-almost-breaks-record/?intcmp=features

The loneliest guy in the world: this rhino

The loneliest guy in the world: this rhino

Sudan walks into a practice transport box at the zoo in Dvur Kralove nad Labem, Czech Republic, Dec. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

If you think your Friday nights are boring, we present you with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino and one of only five of their kind left on planet Earth.

At age 42 or 43, he’s getting on in years (he’s estimated to have about 10 years left), which lends a sense of urgency to breeding efforts that’ve proven so far to be unsuccessful.

“It seems an image of human tenderness that Sudan is lovingly guarded by armed men who stand vigilantly and caringly with him,” writes Jonathan Jones in a lament at the Guardian. “But of course it is an image of brutality. Even at this last desperate stage in the fate of the northern white rhino, poachers would kill Sudan if they could and hack off his horn to sell it on the Asian medicine market.” “While we manage to counter a large number of these, we often risk our lives in the line of duty,” one of Sudan’s guards at Ol Pejeta, a Kenyan reserve that’s also home to two female northern white rhinos, tells the Mirror.

Hanging around with armed guards isn’t necessarily the final indignity: The paper also reports that Sudan’s ivory tusk has been stripped to mitigate the threat to his life; ivory, it notes, currently fetches about $36,000 a pound on the black market.

Both the Mirror and the Guardian have some pretty striking photos of Sudan.

This article originally appeared on Newser: Meet the Loneliest Guy in the World

More From Newser

 

 

 

Originally posted here : http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/05/14/loneliest-guy-in-world-this-rhino/?intcmp=features

New species of long-necked ‘dragon’ dinosaur discovered in China

DragonDinosaur.jpg

Artist’s conception of Qijianglong, chased by two carnivorous dinosaurs in southern China 160 million years ago. (Illustration: Lida Xing)

A new species of long-necked dinosaur was discovered by Canadian paleontologists from bones discovered in central China, according to the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.” Dubbed the Qijianglong (“dragon of Quijang”), the sauropod has a neck that measures 25 feet long, virtually half of its body length. “As far as I know, there are no more bones in the field of this dinosaur,” said team leader Phillip Currie of the University of Alberta.

Discovered by construction workers at a site near Quijang City in 2006, the dinosaur is about 50 feet long and thrived in the late Jurassic period. Researchers digging at the site found its head and neck still together – a rare occurrence due to the small cranium often detaching easily after the creature’s death. Though the researchers had the bones cast and even went as far as mounting the cast skeleton in a museum, they had no idea that they’d uncovered a new species. “It had already been collected, prepared and was laid out on tables,” Currie told FoxNews.com. “This region of China has lots of dinosaur fossils, including skeletons, bonebeds and footprints. The preservation is quite nice, and we were asked to help describe it.”

The Qijianglong is a mamenchisaurid that lived in China 160 million years ago. While most suaropod necks only make up a third of their body length, mamenchisaur necks can reach up to half, with the largest known specimen’s collar extending 59 feet. However, unlike other mamenchisaurids, the Qijianglong’s neck vertebrae is filled with air, making it a much lighter load to carry. Its interlocking joints showed that the creature moved its neck with more ease horizontally rather than sideways, enabling it to eat from extremely tall trees in movements similar to a construction crane’s. The giant herbivores were also mostly immune to attacks from carnivorous dinosaurs due to their size – though that’s not to say they were completely invincible. “I suspect that once they were mature, they were probably immune to the attacks of predators the way elephants are today,” Currie says. “However, like elephants (which are hunted in some parts of Africa by large prides of lions), they were probably never completely immune to attack. And as juveniles, there is some evidence to suggest that the adults stayed with and protected them.”

While long-necked dinosaurs did thrive in other parts of the world, mamenchisaurids were indigenous to China for reasons still unknown. According to Currie, “Mamenchisaur sauropods are so far only known from China, but they do have close relatives all over the world. I assume that mamenchisaurs evolved in that part of the world, but were unable to spread to other continents because China was rather isolated at that time.” Some researchers believe that mamenchisaurs were unable to migrate due to the sea barrier, and lost in competition when invading species arrived once the land connection was restored.

Currie and his team named it the “dragon of Quijang” due to its similarity to the mythical long-necked Chinese dragon. In a statement, doctoral student and team member Tetsuto Miyashita revealed, “I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature.” He might not be far off: in 300 BC, the historian Chang Qu documented discovering “dragon bones” in Sichuan, which Quijang is a province of.

 

Orginally posted here :

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/01/30/new-species-long-necked-dragon-dinosaur-discovered-in-china/

500-million-year-old brains of ‘sea monsters’ get close look

Odaraia_complete_ROM

The bulging white eyes are preserved in Odaraia alata, an arthropod from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale uncovered in British Columbia. (Photograph courtesy of Jean Bernard Caron | Royal Ontario Museum)

The shiny, fossilized brains of two ancient sea-monsterlike creatures are helping researchers understand how the ancestors of modern-day arthropods, such as scorpions and lobsters, evolved, as shown in a new study.

The new research focuses on an oval structure, called the anterior sclerite, found in the heads of ancient arthropods. The anterior sclerite has long baffled researchers, especially because some prehistoric arthropods have it while others don’t, and its location in the head changes, depending on the quality of the fossil.

But now, fossilized brains have helped solve that mystery. An analysis of the anterior sclerites in two arthropod fossils, both more than 500 million years old, indicates that the structures were associated with the creatures’ bulbous eyes. The findings provide evidence that these oval structures were associated with nerves originating in the anterior region of the brain, according to the study. [Fabulous Fossils: Gallery of Earliest Animal Organs]

“We can say, ‘Ah-ha, where does anterior sclerite come from? It comes from the anterior most part of the brain — the forebrain,'” said study researcher Javier Ortega-Hernández, a research fellow in paleobiology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Cambrian creatures

Fossilized brains are rare, but not unheard of in the fossil record. Since 2011, researchers have published roughly one study a year about incredible specimens containing fossilized neural tissue, including a 520-million-year-old arthropodfound in China.

Brains can fossilize only if the conditions are just right, Ortega-Hernández told Live Science. For instance, if an animal is suddenly buried in low-oxygen conditions that are rich in certain minerals, like carbon, its neural tissue would have a chance to fossilize, Ortega-Hernández said.

In the new study, Ortega-Hernández studied two fossils that were discovered in British Columbia’s Burgess Shale during the early 20th century. The fossils are approximately 500 million to 510 million years old, meaning the animals lived during the Middle Cambrian. The specimens are now housed in a collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

One of the specimens, Helmetia expansa, is a soft-bodied, trilobite-type arthropod, Ortega-Hernández said. The other, older arthropod, Odaraia alata, is shaped like a submarine, he said.

“We know from the fossil record that the earliest ancestors of arthropods are soft bodied. They look a little bit like worms with legs,” Ortega-Hernández said. “But then, at some point in time, we start seeing arthropods that look a lot more familiar. They have this jointed skeleton.

“The question here is how do we go from something that looks nothing like an arthropod to something that looks completely like an arthropod?”

It turns out that “by understanding the organization of the head region,” or the anterior sclerite, “we can start to bridge how these two different body organizations are actually part of one continuum,” Ortega-Hernández said.

Living arthropods don’t have an anterior sclerite, which suggests the heads of arthropods have changed over time, experts said.

“This suggests that the anterior sclerite was lost or fused to the head shield in living arthropods,” said David Legg, a research fellow with expertise in early arthropod evolution and phylogenetics at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the United Kingdom, who was not involved with the study.

“This helps use to determine to which segment the more posterior head segments belong, thereby allowing us to compare these fossil and recent arthropods and gain a better understanding of their relationships and the way that their appendages evolved,” he said.

Moreover, the study helps bridge two seemingly unrelated fields, neurology and paleontology, said Greg Edgecombe, a researcher of arthropod evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the study.

“Javier’s paper has been among the first steps toward trying to come up with a common language between these two fields,” Edgecombe told Live Science.

The study was published May 7 in the journal Current Biology.

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Originally posted here:  http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/05/08/500-million-year-old-brains-sea-monsters-get-close-look/?intcmp=features

‘Partially digested’ human head, leg found inside shark caught by Filipino fishermen

  • 75623572.jpg

    The head of a Tiger Shark during research into the biological mechanics of the predator in Sydney, Australia. (GETTY)

At first, the fishermen were excited with the massive volume of their catch: a 660-pound shark caught while on a fishing trip off the coast of Surigao, Philippines.

And then they were horrified.

The crew of five pulled the gigantic fish onto their boat and, after celebrating and probably anticipating a good payday – two pounds of shark meat goes for about $1.40 in the local market – opened the animal and got the shock of their lives. They found a human head and parts of a leg.

According to the news agency, UPI, the head was “partially digested.”

“It was so disgusting. We couldn’t bear the awful smell,” Bodoy Gorgod, one of the fishermen, told Minda News , a news co-operative based in Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island.

The shark was caught between the waters of Bohol and Camiguin islands last week.

“We feared that the human remains may bring bad luck to us, so we opted to drop to the sea the shark’s body and what’s inside its belly,” Gorgod, 48, added.

The only things they kept were the massive jaw and fins of the fish, though the wife of another fisherman objected to the jaw, too, saying she feared the spirit of the shark’s victim might come back to haunt them.

“I don’t want the sight of that jaw, knowing that the shark had eaten a human being. Who knows – the victim’s spirit might visit us,” she told Minda News.

Some of the locals speculated that the remains could belong to one of two male passengers still missing from the wreckage of a ferry, the M/V Maharlika 2, that sank on Sept. 13 off the nearby island of Leyte.

Follow us on twitter.com/foxnewslatino
Like us at facebook.com/foxnewslatino

Rare sperm whale fossils shed light on mysterious family tree

sperm-whale-skull

The skull of the newly discovered species of pygmy sperm whale, found in Panama. (Velez-Juarbe et al.)

Rare, 7-million-year-old fossils of two extinct pygmy sperm whales are helping researchers learn about the evolution of the ocean’s largest toothed whale, a new study finds.

An analysis of the fossilized skulls indicates that even though they were pygmies, the newly discovered species actually had larger spermaceti, an organ that sits on top of the head and is involved in sound production and echolocation (finding an object’s location via sound), than their modern-day relatives.

It’s unclear why the sperm whales’ spermaceti organ shrank over time — twice in the evolutionary record, according to an analysis of several fossils — but perhaps at one time, larger spermaceti were used to attract mates, said the study’s lead researcher, Jorge Velez-Juarbe, a curator of marine mammals at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. [Whale Album: Giants of the Deep]

“We really need to test this hypothesis,” Velez-Juarbe told Live Science. “We need to find more complete fossils.”

Another idea is that the enlarged spermaceti organs helped these prehistoric whales find prey, “because they used echolocation to hunt,” said Nicholas Pyenson, a curator of fossil marine mammals at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.

Caribbean fossils

The researchers found the pygmy sperm whale fossils buried in a sea cliff along the Caribbean coast of Panama in 2012 and 2013. After determining that the two unique individuals were a new species, the researchers named them Nanokogia isthmia; “Nano” from the Latin “nanus,” which means dwarf, and “kogia” for the whale’s genus, “Kogiid.” The species name comes from the Isthmus of Panama, the strip of land where the fossils were found.

The findings have electrified the world of marine paleontology: many whales, dolphins and porpoises have comprehensive fossil records that help scientists study their evolution. But only a few fossils of sperm whales and their elusive living relatives, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, have been recorded, the researchers said.

“It’s exciting to know more about the evolution of this enigmatic group,” Pyenson said. “An entire description of a new fossil pygmy sperm whale — that’s really valuable.”

N. isthmia was small, measuring about 6.6 feet long. In fact, it’s smaller than modern-day pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, which measure between 8 feet and 12 feet long, Velez-Juarbe said. The behemoth of the family, the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), made famous by Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851), can reach about 52 feet in length. Female sperm whales are typically even larger, measuring about 36 feet long.

After analyzing the two N. isthmia skulls, the researchers found that they likely sported large spermaceti organs. The organs are made of fatty tissue, muscles and air sacs, and don’t last in the fossil record. But the bone that attached them to the skull remains, allowing scientists to measure it and use it as a proxy for spermaceti size.

Other features on the ancient skulls could provide clues about Kogiid evolution. For instance, “The two living species of pygmy sperm whales have among the most bizarre skulls of any mammal,” but it’s unclear “how their unusual skull shape evolved,” said Jonathan Geisler, an associate professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the study. [The 12 Weirdest Animal Discoveries]

Modern pygmy sperm whales lack nasal bones, and the right side of the skull is different from the left side, meaning it’s asymmetric.

“The new fossil species these authors describe show a transitional state between other fossil Kogiids and the two living species,” Geisler told Live Science in an email. “Its skull is like those of the living species except that it has a longer snout that is not downturned.”

However, since modern Kogiids are similar to one another, it’s likely that there are more fossil species yet to be discovered, he added.

“New insights into the evolution of this group will primarily come from the fossil record, not additional study of the living species,” Geisler said.

The findings were published online April 29 in the journal PLOS ONE.

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Shark kills woman in Hawaii; sightings prompt warnings in SoCal

NOW PLAYINGExclusive: Baltimore police officer speaks out about case

A shark attack Wednesday that killed a 65-year old woman — Hawaii’s third fatal encounter since 2013 — prompted officials in Maui to close several beaches, and sightings in California spurred warnings on popular beaches.

The shark struck the unidentified woman just before 9 a.m. Wednesday as she was snorkeling near a popular spot known as “Dumps,” according to the Maui Fire Department. Other snorkelers found her floating face down about 200 yards off-shore and pulled her from the sea, but she had suffered severe injuries to her upper torso. Paramedics and firefighters responded, but the woman, identified only as a resident of Kihei, did not survive.

“Our condolence goes out to the family of the victim.”

– Kekoa Kaluhiwa, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Authorities said the woman had been snorkeling with two friends, but became separated from them. Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources closed beaches from La Perouse Bay to Big Beach, Makena and Kihei.

In California’s Orange County, two 5- to 6-foot sharks described as “juveniles” were spotted swimming just beyond the surf line at a public beach, prompted officials to issue warnings Wednesday, according to Chief Joe Bailey of the Seal Beach Marine Safety Department. A video posted on the department’s Facebook pageshows one of the sharks swimming off Seal Beach.

The department first got reports of shark sightings on Tuesday, but lifeguards who searched the water found no signs of them. The following day, they spotted the sharks swimming outside the surf line. Bailey said shark sightings are rare, and downplayed the danger posed by the California sightings.

The Hawaii attack was the third fatal shark attack to occur in Maui waters near Makena since 2013. In December of that year, Washington resident Patrick Briney, 57, was kayaking when a shark bit his right leg, which was dangling in the water. He bled to death. Months earlier, a German tourist was killed when her arm was severed in a shark attack at Palauea Beach, near where the latest attack occurred.

It was not known what species of shark was involved in the latest attack. Kekoa Kaluhiwa, first deputy director of state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said at a news conference in Honolulu that the incident is being investigated. He said staff would be posting additional signs along the coast.

“Our condolence goes out to the family of the victim,” he said.

Crews cleared the water using jet skis and the Department of Land and Natural Resources closed the area to swimmers, divers and other ocean activities. The area is expected to be closed until noon Thursday.

There are no reported witnesses of the shark attack, which was the first deadly encounter of the year in Hawaii.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

California man recovering after sea lion yanked him overboard

0430 sea lion.jpg

April 5, 2015: Photo by Trish Carlin shows Dan Carlin holding a recently-caught yellowtail at the moment a sea lion leaped up to grab the fish – and him – at Mission Bay in San Diego. (AP)

A California woman was about to snap a photo of her husband holding a yellowtail fish on their 29-foot boat when a hungry sea lion leaped about 7 feet out of the water, bit into the man’s hand and yanked him overboard.

Dan Carlin, 62, was smashed by the animal against the boat’s side and sent his legs flailing in the air like a rag doll before it dragged him some 20 feet underwater earlier this month, he said Wednesday.

Underwater, the sea lion whipped the San Diego accountant side to side.

“After 15 seconds, I thought I was going to die,” Carlin told The Associated Press. “I continued to struggle, but thought this is the way I was going to die. It was unbelievable to me.”

As quickly as the attack occurred, Carlin was released from the sea lion’s grip. But to add insult to injury, he sea lion bit Carlin’s foot, puncturing the bone.

He managed to make his way back to his boat that was in a bay off San Diego. He and his wife moved it closer to land while his hand gushed blood and he struggled to breathe because of his battered chest. At one point, Carlin said, he lost his vision.

Carlin received 20 stiches for the gash on his hands and spent two days in the hospital.

Carlin hopes his hand will have healed enough so he can go back out fishing next week. An experienced surfer, scuba diver and fisherman, Carlin said he and his wife, Trish Carlin, always took precautions to properly dispose of any guts or carcasses to ensure they did not go in the water.

Still, his experience shows just how dangerous sea lions can be, despite the fact that people often do not fear them, Carlin said.

“So many times, you see videos of cute seals, sea lions, but I’m sharing what happened to me because I want parents to realize these are wild aggressive animals that can take you down,” he said. “They should be given a wide berth. At least a small child should do that, but also just about anybody should.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Bizarre cousin of T. Rex was a vegetarian

herbivore-theropod-2

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi walked on its hind legs as other theropods did. It also had robust forelimbs that looked like those of other Jurassic theropods, such as the Allosaurus, the researchers said. (Gabriel Lío)

A relative of Tyrannosaurus rex didn’t share the infamous carnivore’s appetite for meat, a new study finds. Instead, the newly discovered 9.8-foot-long  dinosaur munched on plants about 145 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period.

The new species is a member of the theropod group, which consists of mostly carnivorous dinosaurs and includes not only T. rex but also the fearsomeVelociraptor. The newfound “bizarre herbivorous” creature looked like a mixture of a plant-grazing, long-necked sauropodomorph; an herbivorous beaked ornithischian; and a meat-eating theropod, the study researchers said.

“When I saw all the fragmented bones laying on the table, I thought all of them belonged to different dinosaur lineages,” said the study’s lead researcher, Fernando Novas, a researcher at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “That dinosaur is spectacular and bizarre because it combines different features belonging to these three main groups of dinosaurs.” [See Images of the Bizarre Plant-Eating Dinosaur]

Researchers uncovered the curious fossils in 2010. The observant 7-year-old son of two geologists spotted a few dinosaur vertebrae during an expedition with his family in Aysén, a region in southern Chile. The researchers named the new dinosaurChilesaurus diegosuarezi, in honor of Chile and the boy, Diego Suárez.

Since Diego’s discovery, collaborating Chilean and Argentinian scientists have uncovered more than a dozen Chilesaurus specimens, including four complete skeletons ranging from the size of a turkey to almost 10 feet long.

If they had not discovered the complete specimens, researchers may have identified different parts of Chilesaurus as belonging to different species, the scientists said. For instance, the dinosaur’s ilium, the upper, large part of the pelvic bone, looks like that of a theropod. It also had robust forelimbs and likely walked on its hind legs, like other theropods, Novas said. However, Chilesaurus did not have sharp claws like Velociraptor, but instead sported two blunt fingers for hands.

Chilesaurus also had a small skull, long neck and large, clunky feet reminiscent of asauropodomorph, Novas said. “In the case of Chilesaurus, its legs were more adapted to walk, not to run,” he said. “The hind foot is composed of four well-developed toes, different from the three-toed feet of a theropod.”

Moreover, Chilesaurus had a pubic bone that looks like that of an ornithischian, Novas said. It’s possible that the pubic bone rotated backward over evolutionary time to allow Chilesaurus more room in its gut to digest plant material, the researchers said.

The new species is a “wonderful weirdo,” said Thomas Carr, an associate professor of biology at Carthage College in Wisconsin and a vertebrate paleontologist, who was not involved in the study.

“We’re learning about the rules of dinosaur evolution,” Carr told Live Science. “It shows that the dinosaurs across theropods and sauropodomorphs and even ornithischians tend to follow the same rules in changing their bodies,” when they evolved into herbivores.

Chilesaurus isn’t the only herbivorous theropod. The therizinosauroidae, which lived in present-day Asia and North America, also ate plants.

Therizinosauroidae “also have relatively small heads and long necks and stumpy feet,” Carr said. “And their hip bones and pubis point backward. And these [features] are broadly similar to Chilesaurus.”

The remarkable fossils “say something about the limits upon dinosaur evolution,” Carr said. “It just shows that we really don’t know much about dinosaurs at all.”

The study was published online April 27 in the journal Nature.

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.