“Extraordinary” fossils have revealed that a small carnivorous dinosaur ate mammals, demystifying the diet of a long-extinct creature, researchers said.
According to a study published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and an accompanying news release.
“At first I couldn’t believe it. Inside the microraptor skeleton was a perfectly preserved tiny leg of a rodent-like mammal, about a centimeter long,” Hans Larsson, a professor at McGill University and co-author of the study, wrote in the release. “These finds are the only hard evidence that these long-extinct animals ate food, and they are extremely rare.”
Larson made the discovery while inspecting a Chinese museum collection.
Researchers say there are only 20 other documented cases of conspicuous food being found inside the skeletons of carnivorous dinosaurs.
Microraptor, one of the smallest known dinosaur species, had wings on all four limbs and was about the size of a crow, according to researchers. It was first discovered in northern China about 20 years ago.
A creature that roamed the Earth about 125 million years ago, weighed only about 2 lbs and may have been able to fly, according to the British Natural History Museum
The new find suggests the feathered creature was not a picky eater, researchers say.
“Knowing that Microraptor was a generalist carnivore offers a new look at how ancient ecosystems might have worked and may help understand the success of these small feathered dinosaurs,” Larson said.
Generalist carnivores help stabilize ecosystems because they prey on multiple species that can have different population sizes at different times, researchers say.
“This study paints a picture of a fascinating moment in time – one of the first records of a dinosaur eating mammals – even if it’s not as scary as anything in Jurassic ParkDavid Hone, one of the study’s co-authors, wrote in a press release from Queen Mary University of London.
Another rare paleontological discovery, researchers unearthed a 100-million-year-old marine reptile in Australia in December, according to previous reports by McClatchy News. Experts called the fossil the “Rosetta Stone of marine paleontology.”
McGill University is located in Quebec.