Rare evidence that dinosaurs feasted on discovered mammals
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Sometime during the Cretaceous Period, 120 million years ago, a dinosaur devoured its last meal – a small mouse-sized mammal. And it’s still there.
Spotted a researcher with a sharp eye the mammal’s foot preserved in the guts of a fossilized Microraptor zhaoianus, a feathered therapy less than a meter (3 feet) in length.
“At first I couldn’t believe it. There was a small rodent-like mammal foot about an inch long, perfectly preserved in a Microraptor skeleton,” said Hans Larsson, a biology professor at the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal. Larsson came across the fossil while visiting museum collections in China.
“These finds are the only solid evidence we have about the food consumption of these long-extinct animals — and they are exceptionally rare,” Larsson said in a press release.
The research, which is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Dec. 20 said this was only the 21st known instance of a fossilized dinosaur whose last meal was preserved.
It is rarer still to discover that a mammal was on the menu; there is currently only one other example in the fossil record.
“We already know of Microraptor specimens that have been preserved with parts of a fish, a bird and a lizard in their abdomens. This new find adds a small mammal to their diet, suggesting that these dinosaurs were opportunistic and not picky eaters,” Larsson, a study co-author, said in a statement.
“Knowing that Microraptor was a generalist carnivore gives a new perspective on how ancient ecosystems may have worked and a possible insight into the success of these small feathered dinosaurs,” he explained.
Generalist predators, such as foxes and crows, are important stabilizers in today’s ecosystems because they can feed on a variety of species, the press release said. According to the research, the Microraptor is the first known example of a generalist carnivore in a dinosaur age.
It was possible that other dinosaurs in the therapod family, including the Tyrannosaurus rexmay also have shared a similar no-nonsense diet, the study said.
The Microraptor fossil was discovered in the early 2000s in the rich Liaoning fossil deposits of northeastern China. The specimen, with feathers on its arm wings and legs, was one of the first feathered dinosaurs to be excavated.
“Although this mammal definitely would not have been a human ancestor, we can look back to some of our ancient relatives that were a meal for hungry dinosaurs,” said study co-author Dr. David Hone, a reader in zoology at Queen Mary University of London, said in a statement.
“This study paints a picture of a fascinating moment in time — one of the first records of a dinosaur eating a mammal — even if it’s not quite as terrifying as something in ‘Jurassic Park.'”
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