Chilesaurus diegosuarezi (Novas et al. 2015; Late Jurassic, 150 mya, Fig. 1) is the current media darling. Described as an ‘enigmatic’ and ‘bizarre’ theropod, Chilesaurus was nested with Velociraptor, Tawa and kin, and Elaphrosaurus using various prior cladograms in the supplementary data. So that’s an issue (no internal agreement).
Several articulated specimens are known at distinct ontogenetic stages.
Unfortunately taxon exclusion raises its ugly head again…
The large reptile tree nests Chilesaurus outside of the Theropoda, near the base of the Phytodinosauria, at the base of the Ornithischia and at the base of the clade that also includes Daemonosaurus and Jeholosaurus (Fig. 1), two taxa that were unfortunately ignored by the Novas et al. study. Hate to see that happen yet again.
Chilesaurus is not bizarre.
It is simply a descendant from an unknown Late Triassic transitional taxon at the base of the Ornithischia, a hypothesis overlooked by Novas et al. Chilesaurus is not a theropod, but a phytodinosaur (Fig. 3). The fact that fossils of Chilesaurus were found much later than the original split is not a cause for concern. That happens all the time.
Along with Jeholosaurus, Chilesaurus demonstrates the changes that were happening to the dinosaurian pelvis at the genesis of the ornithischian pelvis. As a plant eater, Chilesaurus and kin were expanding their gut volume to digest less digestible plant matter.
Manus and tooth changes
The hands of Chilesaurus are not as primitive and plesiomorphic as might be hoped, but then Chilesaurus is a descendent of that Late Triassic transitional taxon, appearing tens of millions of years after the split. Things evolve! While the teeth remain large and robust, Chilesaurus had flat teeth, rather than the pointed ones of its Triassic sister, Daemonosaurus or its Cretaceous sister, Jeholosaurus.
to the largely missing post-crania of Daemonosaurus are provided by its sister Chilesaurus.
Now let’s talk about the PR barrage
This is where the science reporters separate themselves from the scientists. All those who reported without testing the results of Novas et al. … you may have to do some backtracking.
See M.Mortimer’s take on Chilesaurus here. Mortimer found a raft of miscodings in the original paper by Novas et al.
Novas FE, Salgado, Suárez LM, Agnolín FL, Ezcurra MND, Chimento NSR.,de la Cruz R, Isasi MP, Vargas AO, Rubilar-Rogers D. 2015. An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature14307