A 120-million-year-old Microraptor fossil has revealed a cat-sized dinosaur’s surprising lunch. Though the fossil was first described in 2000it hid an intriguing and historic secret: A reanalysis of the fossil found leg bones of a mammal inside the predator’s rib cage — the first evidence that a dino dined on a mammal.
find, It is described Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontologybased on previous research Microraptor zhaoianus A fossil discovered in the Jiufotang Formation in western China. This fossil is missing its midbody, but the rib cage is visible, and the bones of the small right leg, less than half an inch inside, are perfectly preserved.
Microraptors were tree-climbing, three-toed, carnivorous dinosaurs of the ancient Earth that were among the smallest dinosaurs ever discovered. Fossils from different microraptor species show long feathers on each limb that may have been used for gliding.
As you might expect, eating food doesn’t usually result in very well-preserved fossil remains. All that biting and chewing, plus digestion, usually leaves a few food marks. However, scientists have a fairly good idea of the microraptor diet thanks to fossils with undigested stomach remains.
A bird, a fish, and a squamate—a class of animals that includes lizards and snakes—have all been found before, but the new find helps provide a more complete picture of what happened in the throat during prehistoric tasting.
David Hone, a paleontologist at Queen Mary University of London and first author of the new study, said: “It’s very rare to find food samples inside dinosaurs, so every sample is really important because it gives direct evidence of what they ate.”
Although scientists can tell the foot landed in the stomach of a microraptor, they are not sure what species it belonged to. The slender figures resemble small, extinct mammals known as possums. Cynodelphis or more like a mouse Eomaia. However, the digits are not long enough to be one of these types.
Another outstanding question is whether Microraptor hunted mammals or simply cleaned its leg. It’s impossible to tell with this fossil, but some scientists have suggested that Microraptor’s feathered limbs allowed the species to glide from branches and prey on land-dwelling species. The size of the mammal’s foot suggests that the creature would have been in the size range expected for a microraptor’s prey.
The stunning fossil builds on previous evidence that these smaller three-toed dinosaurs would have feasted on anything around them – they may have even eaten plants on occasion.
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