A rare dinosaur fossil found with the finished meal perfectly preserved inside

About 120 million years ago, they were called four-winged dinosaurs, about the size of crows microraptors Hunt down the ancient forests of what is now China.

While the researchers studied several microraptor samples, there’s still a lot we don’t know about these feathered-like creatures — including what and how they ate.

Now an incredibly rare fossil has revealed the preserved final meal of a single individual: And, unexpectedly, it was a mammal.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” says vertebrate paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University in Canada, who stumbled upon the fossil while sifting through specimens in museum collections in China.

“There was a small, rodent-like mammalian foot about one centimeter long that was perfectly preserved inside A microraptor Skeleton.”

Close-up of a mammalian foot between the ribs microraptor. (Hans Larsson / McGill University)

“These findings are the only evidence we have about the food consumption of these long-extinct animals – and they are extremely rare,” Larson adds.

the first microraptor The fossil was found in Liaoning, China, in 2000. There are three known species, which lived in the early Cretacious period, and the fossil in question belonged to Microraptor zhaoianus.

Illustration of Microraptor and rodent
Illustration of microraptor with a rodent. (Hans Larsson)

the microraptors It was among the first dinosaurs to be found with fully feathered wings on its arms and legs – and Next to the famous feathers dinosaur ArcheopteryxAnd the It reinforced theories suggesting that modern birds are closely related to the dinosaur classes.

While some studies have shown this microraptors If they were able to fly, it is generally believed that they used their wings mostly to glide.

Until now, it was confirmed that small dinosaurs ate only birds, fish and lizards, and they were thought to be arboreal hunters, sliding from trees to catch prey.

Illustration of two Microraptors
Illustration of two microraptors….. (Durbed/Deviant Art/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The latest discovery expands on this idea, suggesting that they were more likely to be opportunistic eaters that sought out and preyed on a variety of vertebrates.

“We already know microraptor Preserved specimens with parts of fish, birds and lizards in their stomachs. This new discovery adds a small mammal to their diet, which indicates that these dinosaurs were opportunists rather than picky eaters,” says Larson.

This is a big problem, because although generalist carnivores are common and important stabilizers in today’s ecosystems–think foxes and crows–this may be the first evidence of generalist carnivores in a dinosaur ecosystem, write Larsson and his team.

They added that it is extremely rare to find dinosaur fossils that keep their last meal inside their stomachs. Of all the fossils of carnivorous dinosaurs that have been found, we only know of 20 that contain their last meals.

The latest discovery takes that number to 21.

Understanding more about their diets is not only great for those of us trying to imagine what the world might have looked like 120 million years ago, it also provides important clues for researchers working hard to understand exactly how dinosaurs left Earth for the sky and evolved. In the real birds that we see today.

“Knowing that microraptor A general carnivore was putting a new perspective on how ancient ecosystems worked and a potential insight into the success of these small, feathered dinosaurs,” says Larson.

Research published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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