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

Illustration of Microraptor hiding on the foot of a mammal.

An example of microraptor Hiding on the foot of a mammal.
clarification: Ralph Atanasia

Paleontologists are getting a second look at a tiny, four-winged species her dinosaur Fossilized mammalian foot found in predator’s stomach.

Researchers say it’s the first concrete evidence that dinosaurs ate mammals. dinosaur samples Microraptor zhaoinusYou have It was discovered Ancient birds, fish, and lizards contain it, so mammal spotting is the newest known source of protein for this purpose Brave hunter. The team that rechecked microraptor fossil published Their findings are published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“It really shows the general diet in this small, feathered dinosaur,” Hans Larsson, a paleontologist at McGill University and lead author of the study, said in an email to Gizmodo. “Adding mammals to the list shows just how unspecialized this dinosaur was.”

Tree dwelling microraptor lived during the early Cretaceous period, Specimens have been found across what is now northeastern China. The area rich in fossils is called Jehol Biota and its Well preserved treasures is a great resource for understanding the nuances of dinosaur anatomy, as well as details about the animals’ different ecological niches.

microraptor It is believed that he lived in trees, wandering around the Cretaceous forests, looking for morsels on the branches as well as on the ground. The recently studied specimen is the holotype, which means it was The first of its kind to be found and named. It was only recently revisited after it was rediscovered back in 2000. The new analysis open Mammalian foot – apparently unprecedented You find.

Mammalian foot (center) inside Microraptor fossils.

Mammalian feet (middle) inside microraptor fossil.
picture: Hans Larsson

The researchers were unable to identify Ris special mammal species, But the foot Conservation indoors microraptor allowed them to understand their ecological niche, and obviously their predators.

“The contents of the gut are amazing snapshots of the diet of fossil animals, but they are so rare that it is hard to know whether the preserved ‘last meal’ represents the animal’s natural diet or a one-off freak event it was lucky to have,” said Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, a paleontologist. at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which was not affiliated with the latest paper, said in an email to Gizmodo: “It’s petrified.”

Added Drumheller-Horton, “Microraptor is shaping up to be an interesting exception to this rule, with many beautiful fossil specimens preserving various ‘last meals’.” Taken together, the authors make a compelling case that this small theropod wasn’t a particularly picky eater, It eats all kinds of small animals in its environment.”

Another example of Microraptor with its prey.

Another clarification for microraptor with its prey.
clarification: Hans Larsson

Mammal feet apparently It doesn’t belong far away Human ancestor of the team He said it has similarities for forms SynodlvisAnd the YankonodonAnd the Yumayaall ancient species of early mammals that looked roughly like opossums or rodents.

The foot belongs to an animal the size of a mouse. The team’s analysis found what crait isVerse He wouldn’t be a good climber – which is an indication of that microraptor It may have occasionally swooped onto the forest floor to feed.

“The foot appears completely intact, and thus was swallowed whole. How many mammals were swallowed is unknown,” Larson said. “However, there were many other unknown bones around the foot in the thorax, so I suspect more of those were consumed by mammals.”

The researchers were unable to determine whether the animal was hunted and killed Or if it was a feathered dinosaur scan it the body.

Given the luck paleontologists have had with the Jehol Biota so far, it might only be a matter of time before another meal-laden specimen offers more insights into the chalky food scene.

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