First trace of a dinosaur eating a mammal

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First trace of&rsquo ;a dinosaur eating a mammal

This is a rare find of preserved remains of a dinosaur with its last meal.

Close up photo of mammal foot among Microraptor ribs.

The remains of a small fossil mammal foot preserved in the body cavity of a specimen of a feathered dinosaur, a Microraptor zhaoianus, were observed by biology professor Hans Larsson and his colleagues associated with the Redpath Museum of McGill University.

This discovery adds to the known diversity of the diet of these animals, which also consumed birds, fish and lizards. It shows that the Microraptorwas an animal, a generalist carnivore in the ancient dinosaur ecosystem, the scientists note in a statement released by the university.

Life reconstruction of Microraptor eating a small mammal.

According to the team, the Microraptor zhaoianuswas an opportunistic predator that likely hunted small animals, and fed on trash and food in multiple habitats.

Of the hundreds of skeletons of carnivorous dinosaurs discovered to date, only 20 cases had traces of their last meals. This discovery made during a visit to museum collections in China brings their number to 21.

Pr Larsson was very surprised by his observation.

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“At first, I didn't believe it. There was a tiny mammalian foot, which appeared to be a rodent, about a centimeter long perfectly preserved inside a Microraptor skeleton. These finds are the only solid evidence we have of the food consumption of these long-extinct animals – and they are exceptionally rare.

— Hans Larsson, professor at McGill University

Fully feathered with wings on its arms and legs, the Microraptor was a small dinosaur that was about the size of a crow. Paleontologists believe that this dinosaur is closely related to the origin of birds.

The first specimen was discovered in deposits in Liaoning, China in the early 2000s , notes the press release.

“We already know of Microraptor specimens preserved with fish, bird, or lizard parts in the belly. This new discovery adds a small mammal to their diet, suggesting that these dinosaurs were opportunistic and not picky eaters.

— Hans Larsson, professor at McGill University

This dinosaur ate more than one type of food, so the present discovery could be the first evidence of a generalist carnivore in dinosaur ecosystems, believe the authors of this work published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (in English).

According to Prof. Larsson and his colleagues, these generalist predators are important stabilizers in today's ecosystems, such as foxes and crows, because they can feed among several species that may have different population abundances.

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