In the fossilized remains of a dinosaur found the leg of a mammal eaten by him

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have presented an extremely rare find – a fossil of a Cretaceous microraptor, inside which the remains of its last victim, a small mammal, have been preserved.

Microraptors lived about 120 million years ago, at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, in what is now China. They were small, four-winged, feathered theropods about the size of a dove.

It is believed that they did not know how to fly fully, but they could soar from branch to branch, hunting small vertebrates, including lizards, fish and early mammals.

Microraptor zhaoinus was described in 2000. But the team of Professor Hans Larsson (Hans Larsson) managed to notice in his remains that colleagues had previously overlooked.

Between the ribs of the microraptor, an almost complete distal (far from the body) part of the limb of a mammal was found, which, apparently, became its last victim.

In the fossilized remains of a dinosaur found the leg of a mammal eaten by him 2
The mammalian limb is easily discernible in the center of the fossil image (top); the location of the bones is shown below

It is not possible to determine the species of a mammal. We can only say that it was a creature of small size, about the size of a mouse, close to the primitive Sinodelphis and Yanokonodons.

Judging by the structure of its limb, it led a terrestrial lifestyle and was not adapted for climbing. This is rather surprising, since microraptors themselves are thought to have spent most of their lives in trees.

Probably, M. zhaoinus did not prey on such animals and only ate the remains of an already dead mammal. But it is possible that from time to time the microraptor left the forest crown and attacked ground game.

The second option is also indicated by several unidentified bones that were found next to the limb – they probably also belonged to the deceased mammal.

“We already knew microraptor specimens with the remains of fish, birds and lizards in their stomachs,” said Professor Larson.

“The new find supplements their diet with small mammals, suggesting that these dinosaurs were not particularly picky about their food.”

According to the scientist, this is the first reliable evidence of the presence of generalist predators in the ecosystems of the dinosaur era.

Today, such animals play an important role in stabilizing ecosystems by controlling the abundance of many small herbivores. It is possible that at one time M. zhaoinus performed similar functions, like modern crows or foxes.

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