“Very rare discovery” reveals one of the first records of a dinosaur eating a mammal

“Very rare discovery” reveals one of the first records of a dinosaur eating a mammal

It’s not uncommon for scientists to discover new fossils from the age of the dinosaurs, but every now and then, a discovery reveals much rarer information.

Scientists discovered the fossil of the tiny, feathery microraptor zhaoianus in 2000, but recently a researcher made a “very rare discovery” — another animal inside its remains. Professor Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal found that the fossil actually showed the foot of an ancient mammal right between the ribs.

But don’t worry: researcher David Hone of Queen Mary University of London said it “absolutely wouldn’t have been a human ancestor”.

A rendered image of Microraptor zhaoianus.

Ralph Athanasius III

Microraptors lived in the forests of what is now China about 120 million years ago. They were about the size of a crow, with long feathers, and are thought to have slithered through the trees to hunt small animals. But that’s what makes this particular finding so interesting, the researchers said.

After analyzing the foot of the digested animal, it appears as if it was a mouse-sized creature bound to the ground and not a particularly good climber, indicating that the microraptor would likely have abandoned its search at the top of the tree of a ground snack. Previous studies of the feathered dinosaur have revealed that they consumed birds, lizards and fish.

“It’s so rare to find examples of food inside dinosaurs, so each example is really important because it gives direct evidence of what they ate,” Hone said. “…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 as terrifying as anything in Jurassic Park.”

Close-up view of mammal foot.

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The research was published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Tuesday.

A press release from Hone’s university he said the find makes it clear that this particular type of dinosaur had a “diverse diet and was not a specialist in any one option”. However, the university also noted that researchers do not know whether the small mammal in the raptor’s belly was direct prey or an already dead animal that had been scavenged.

Fellow researcher Alex Dececchi of Mount Marty College in South Dakota compared the dinosaur to a domestic cat, a creature of about the same size.

“Microraptor would have been an easy animal to live with, but a terror if it got out, because it would hunt everything from the birds in your feeder to the mice on your fence or the fish in your pond,” Dececchi said.

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