About 120 million years ago, a crow-sized bird of prey devoured a mammal for its last meal. Researchers came across the Last Supper of the microraptorA bird-like four-winged carnivorous dinosaur while examining its fossilized remains at a secret museum in China, a new study reveals.
The well-preserved fossil of Microraptor zhaoianus comprised the 0.39 inch long (1 centimeter) foot of a small mammal, probably a rodent, which according to a rested in the small theropod’s thorax expression (opens in new tab).
The discovery marks the earliest known case of a dinosaur devouring a mammal, the researchers wrote in the study, published Dec. 20 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (opens in new tab).
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” study co-author Hans Larson (opens in new tab), director of the Redpath Museum and a vertebrate paleontologist at McGill University in Montreal, said in the statement. “These finds are the only solid evidence we have of the feeding of these long-extinct animals – and they are exceptionally rare.”
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Prior to this find, there were only 20 known instances of fossilized remains containing the last meal of a carnivorous dinosaur, according to the statement. This included the skeleton of Daurlong Wangi, a species of raptor also found in China, whose intestines contained “a large, bluish layer in the abdomen.” Among the 20 cases, scientists have only four published examples (not including this one) of stomach contents microraptor even.
The new discovery is also only the second direct evidence that theropods – a group of two-legged, mostly carnivorous dinosaurs – belong to it Tyrannosaurus rex — Mammals devoured, the researchers write in the study.
This microraptor, whose name means “tiny marauder,” was found in Liaoning Province in the Jiufotang Formation of northeastern China. Although the exact dates of Jiufotang are unknown, it contains fossils from the early period Cretaceous (145 million to 100.5 million years ago), a 2000 study that originally described the fossil in the journal Nature (opens in new tab) found.
“We already know that microraptor Specimens preserved with parts of fish, a bird and a lizard in their bellies,” Larsson said. “This new find adds a small mammal to their diet, suggesting this.” dinosaur were opportunistic and not picky eaters.”
He added: “Knowing that they aren’t specialized for any particular food is a big deal,” as it could be the first evidence of a generalist carnivore being part of the Cretaceous ecosystem. According to the statement, it could have served as a “stabilizer in the ecosystem” similar to modern-day foxes and crows.
“Knowing that microraptor was a generalist carnivore, which provides a new perspective on how ancient ecosystems might have functioned,” Larsson said, “and a possible insight into the success of these small, feathered dinosaurs.”