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 in the ribcage of a dinosaur, shedding light on the diet of prehistoric creatures.
British paleontologists have analyzed the fossil remains of a small feathered dinosaur, known as a microraptor, and found that it appeared to have eaten a small mouse-sized mammal.
The scientists said the find, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, 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 glided from tree to tree to prey on small animals.
Dr David Hone, from Queen Mary University of London, who is the study’s first author, said: “It’s so rare to find examples of food inside dinosaurs, so every example is really important because it gives direct evidence of what they ate.
“While this mammal would absolutely not have been a human ancestor, we can consider some of our ancient relatives as food 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 as scary as anything in Jurassic Park.”
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Study author Dr Alex Dececchi, of Mount Marty College in the US, added: “What’s great is that – like your house cat, which was about the same size – the microraptor would have been an easy-going animal but a terror if it came out, as it would hunt everything 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 between 125 and 113 million years ago.
As it moved on its two legs, experts believe that some species might have been capable of guided flight.
The fossil in question was first analyzed in 2000, but researchers said the previous team had not seen the remains of another animal inside the dinosaur.
Microraptor specimens have previously been found with food preserved in their stomachs, such as a bird, a lizard, and a fish. However, the researchers said it was unclear whether the dinosaurs hunted these animals or found them dead and scavenged them.