Scientists find a mammal’s foot in a dinosaur, first a fossil

Scientists find a mammal’s foot in a dinosaur, first a fossil

Scientists find a mammal’s foot in a dinosaur, first a fossil

An illustration of Microraptor chewing on a mammal's foot.

An illustration of Microraptor chewing on the foot of a mammal.
Illustration: Ralph Attanasia

Paleontologists taking a second look at a species of small, four-winged having a dinosaur found a fossilized foot of a mammal in the stomach of the predator.

It’s the first concrete evidence that dinosaurs ate mammals, the researchers say. Specimens of the Dinosaur, Microraptor zhaoinushave discovers with ancient birds, fish and lizards, so the mammal find is just the last known source of protein for this spicy hunter. The team that the Microraptor fossil published their findings today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“It really demonstrates the generalist diet of this little feathered dinosaur,” Hans Larsson, a paleontologist at McGill University and the study’s lead author, said in an email to Gizmodo. “Adding mammals to the menu shows how unspecialized this dinosaur was.”

The treehouse Microraptor lived during the early Cretaceous, and specimens have been found in what is now northeastern China. The fossil-rich area is called the Jehol Biota, and its well kept treasures are a great resource for understanding nuances of dinosaur anatomy, as well as details about the ecological niches of various animals.

Microraptor is believed to have lived in trees, gliding through the Cretaceous Woods in search of bits both on branches and on the ground. The recently studied specimen is the holotype, meaning it was first of its kind to be found and named. It has only recently been revisited after its discovery in 2000. The new analysis revealed the foot of a mammal – a seemingly unprecedented one find.

The mammal foot (center) in the Microraptor fossil.

The foot of the mammal (center) within the Microraptor fossil.
Photo: Hans Larson

The researchers were unable to identify the special mammal species, but the foot keep inside Microraptor Allowed to understand its ecological niche and of course its predators.

“Gut contents are an amazing snapshot of the diet of fossil animals, but they are so rare that it can be difficult to figure out whether the preserved ‘last meal’ represents the animal’s normal diet or a weird, one-off event that changed its luck. had fossilized,” Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not affiliated with the recent paper, said in an email to Gizmodo.

“Microraptor is becoming a very interesting exception to that rule, with several beautifully fossilized specimens preserving different ‘last meals’,” Drumheller-Horton added. “Taken together, the authors make a compelling argument that this little theropod was not a particularly picky eater, eating a variety of small animals in its environment.”

Another illustration of Microraptor with its prey.

Another illustration of Microraptor with its prey.
Illustration: Hans Larson

The foot of the mammal apparently did not belong to a distant human ancestor; the team said it had similarities to the morphologies of Sinodelphys, Yanoconodonand Eomaiaall ancient species of early mammals that looked something like opossums or rodents.

The foot belonged to a mouse-sized animal. The team’s analysis found the crittis would not have been a good climber – an indication that Microraptor may have occasionally dived to the forest floor to feed.

“The foot appears to be completely intact and has therefore been swallowed whole. How much of the mammal was ingested is not known,” Larsson said. “However, there were several other unidentified bones around the foot in the ribcage, so I suspect more of that mammal may have been consumed.”

The researchers could not determine whether the animal was hunted and killed or if the feathered dinosaur had have been cleaned up body.

Given how lucky paleontologists have been with the Jehol Biota thus far, it may only be a matter of time before another meal-laden specimen offers further insight into the Cretaceous food scene.

More: eating a shark, eating a squid, eating a lobster, in one fossil

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