NEW YORK (AP) — An unusual discovery in China suggests that some early mammals may have hunted dinosaurs for dinner.
The fossil shows a badger-like creature chomping down on a small, beaked dinosaur, its skeletons a web of webs. The discovery comes from a site known as “Chinese Pompeii,” where mud and debris from ancient volcanoes buried creatures in their tracks.
“This appears to be a prehistoric hunt, captured in stone, like a freeze frame,” University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte, who was not involved in the study, said in an email.
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The fossil described Tuesday in the journal Scientific reportsshows two creatures from about 125 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.
Although the mammal is much smaller, the researchers believe it was attacking the tyrannosaurus when it got caught in the volcanic flow, said study author Jordan Mallon, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The mammal perched on the tyrannosaurus, its paws grasping the reptile’s jaw and hind limb while its teeth sank into its ribcage.
“I’ve never seen a fossil like this before,” Mallon said.
It has been suggested that mammals ate dinosaur meat before: another fossil shows A mammal died with the remains of a dinosaur in its gut. The new discovery also indicates that mammals may in fact have preyed on dinosaurs many times their own size, and weren’t limited to hunting down dinosaurs that were already dead, Mallon said.
“This turned the old story on its head,” Brusatte said. “We used to think of the age of the dinosaurs as a time when dinosaurs ruled the world, and small mammals hunkered down in the shadows.”
The study authors acknowledged that there are some known fossil forgeries from this part of the world, which Mallon said was a concern when they began their research. But after making their own preparations for the skeletons and analyzing rock samples, he said they were confident the fossil — which was found by a farmer in 2012 — was authentic, and would welcome other scientists to study the fossil as well.
The mammal in the fossil duo is a meat-eating Repenomamus robustus, about the size of a house cat, Malone said. The dinosaur – Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis – was the size of a medium-sized dog with a parrot-like beak.
This species was a plant-eater, but other dinosaurs were carnivores or ate both. In the end, Mallon said, dinosaurs may still have eaten more mammals than the other way around.
“However, we now know that mammals were able to fight back, at least sometimes,” he said.
The Associated Press Health and Science section receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media group. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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