Fossil hunters in Chile have unearthed the remains of a bizarre Jurassic dinosaur that combined a curious mixture of features from different prehistoric animals. The evolutionary muddle of a beast grew to the size of a small horse and was the most abundant animal to be found 145 million years ago, in what is now the Aysén region of Patagonia. The discovery ranks as one of the most remarkable dinosaur finds of the past 20 years, and promises to cause plenty of headaches for paleontologists hoping to place the animal in the dinosaur family tree. “I don’t know how the evolution of dinosaurs produced this kind of animal, what kind of ecological pressures must have been at work,” said Fernando Novas at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires.

“What’s surprising is that in this locality the most bizarre dinosaur is not the exception, but the rule. It is the most abundant animal we find,” he added. The first fossilised bones of the beast were discovered in 2004 when a Chilean couple, who are geologists, were studying rocks in the Andes to understand how the mountain range formed. The couple’s son, Diego, was playing nearby when he found a fossilised bone that turned out to belong to the new species. The discovery prompted the geologists, Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz, to team up with Novas and other scientists and return to the site, called Black Hill, in a breathtaking rocky expanse near General Carrera Lake in southern Chile. MORE