Scientists believe they have discovered the first known incident of a mammal being eaten by a dinosaur.
The foot of an animal that lived 120 million years ago has been found inside the rib cage of a dinosaur, shedding light on the prehistoric creatures’ diet.
Paleontologists in the UK have analyzed the fossilized remains of a small, feathered dinosaur, known as a microraptor, and found that it appeared to have eaten a small, mouse-sized mammal.
Scientists said the discovery, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is “the first record of a dinosaur eating a mammal”.
A microraptor was about the size of a small cat or crow and would have slithered from tree to tree to prey on small animals.
Dr David Hone, from Queen Mary University of London, who is the first author of the study, said: ‘It’s so rare to find examples of food inside dinosaurs, so each example is really important as it provides direct evidence of what they were eating.
“While this mammal was definitely not a human ancestor, we can look back on some of our ancient relatives as meal for hungry dinosaurs.
“This study paints a picture of a fascinating moment in time — the first record of a dinosaur eating a mammal — even if it’s not quite as scary as anything in Jurassic Park.”
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Fellow study author Dr Alex Dececchi, of Mount Marty College in the US, added: ‘The great thing is that – like your pet cat, which was roughly the same size – the microraptor would have been a easy to live with but a terror if he went out, as he would hunt anything from birds in your feeder to mice in your hedge or fish in your pond.”
Microraptors lived in the ancient forests of what is now China, somewhere between 125 and 113 million years ago.
As it moved on its two legs, experts believe some species may have been capable of guided flight.
The fossil in question was first analyzed in 2000, but researchers said the previous team had failed to see the remains of another animal inside the dinosaur.
Microraptor specimens have previously been found with food stored in their stomachs, such as a bird, a lizard, and a fish. However, the researchers said it’s unclear whether dinosaurs hunted these animals or found them dead and scavenged them.