Speaking of the Devil

Fossils show dinosaur transformed into vegetarian.

A team of paleontologists led by Kirkland announced Wednesday the discovery of a new dinosaur caught in the evolutionary act of shifting from a meat eater to a vegetarian.

The 125-million-year-old creature is expected to shed light on this process not just for the dinosaur’s group itself, but for dinosaurs generally, the researchers say.

The hilltop is a mass burial ground for the animals. The new find, dubbed Falcarius utahensis, may have hundreds of its brethren interred there in well-preserved condition.

‘A hallmark dinosaur one day’

In the world of paleontology, that’s a big deal. The overwhelming majority of the roughly 900 dinosaur species known are represented by a partial skeleton or a few bone fragments, Kirkland explains. “We estimate that there are well over a million bones here, and 99% are from this animal,” he says. “This animal will be a hallmark dinosaur one day.”

To the uninitiated, it resembles its Velociraptor cousin in many ways. But on closer inspection, the creature is clearly demoting itself on the food chain, the researchers say. Its teeth are losing their meat-eating edge. Its pelvis is broadening to accommodate a digestive system large enough to handle a plant-based diet. Its neck is growing longer, its legs stubbier, and its head smaller. In all, Falcarius displays 20 features of plant-eating dinosaurs that it appears to have evolved independently from other herbivores, (emphasis mine – afarensis) according to Lindsay Zanno of the University of Utah, who is working on the project.

Another piece of the puzzle gets put in place.

Here is a picture of the jaws (from National Geographic).

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And here is a picture of the hand (looks like three metacarpals and a some carpals) and claws- as you can see they are related to velociraptors (also from National Geographic):

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