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ScienceShot: Early Birdlike Dinosaur Was a Fish Eater

29 April 2013 1:00 pm
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Emily Willoughby; (inset) University of Alberta

The early bird may get the worm, but the early birdlike dinosaur got the fish. A newly discovered fossil (inset) of an early Cretaceous feathered dinosaur known as Microraptor (artist's impression above), unearthed in northeastern China, surrounds a jumbled collection of fish bones, which are believed to be the content of the creature's gut. Previous studies suggested that the hawk-sized dinosaur, which lived about 120 million years ago and was able to make short, controlled flights with its four wings, mainly dieted on small birds and climbing mammals the size of modern-day squirrels. That had led researchers to conclude that Microraptor hunted in an arboreal environment. The new study, however, published this month in Evolution , shows that the dino had a more varied lifestyle. Beyond the fish bones, the fossil sports teeth angled forward and serrated on only one side, adaptations commonly associated with fish-eaters, as they make it easier to impale and swallow slippery, writhing prey without tearing them apart. The flexible feeding behaviour of the primitive Microraptor may help explain why the later members of its dromaeosaurid family—which are popularly known as raptors (and notably includes Velociraptor)—were so successful and widespread in the Late Cretaceous.

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