Scientists believe they have discovered the first known instance of a mammal being eaten by a dinosaur.
The foot of an animal that lived 120 million years ago has been found inside the ribcage of a dinosaur, providing clues to the prehistoric creature’s diet.
British paleontologists have analyzed the fossilized remains of a small, feathered dinosaur called Microraptor and found that it appeared to have eaten a small mammal the size of a mouse.
The discovery, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is “the first record of a dinosaur eating a mammal,” the scientists said.
Microraptors, about the size of a kitten or a crow, would slide from tree to tree to hunt small animals.
Dr David Horn, lead author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Instances of food being found in dinosaurs are extremely rare, so each instance is very important as it provides direct evidence of what dinosaurs ate.
“While this mammal is definitely not the ancestor of humans, we can look back at some of our ancient relatives as food for hungry dinosaurs.
“This study paints a fascinating picture of a moment — the first record of a dinosaur eating a mammal — even if it’s not as horrific as anything in Jurassic Park.”
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Study author Dr Alex Dececchi, from Marty Hill College in the US, added: “The best part is – it was about the size of your house cat – Microraptor would have been an easy animal to live with, but if it got out, Because it will kill everything from the birds at the feeder to the mice on the fence or the fish in the pond.”
Microraptor lived in the ancient forests of what is now China, about 125 million to 113 million years ago.
Although it moved on two legs, experts believe some species may have the ability to guide flight.
The fossil in question was first analyzed in 2000, but the researchers said previous teams had failed to see the remains of another animal inside the dinosaur.
Preserved foods such as birds, lizards and fish have been found in the stomachs of Microraptor specimens before. However, the researchers say it’s unclear whether the dinosaurs hunted the animals, or found them dead and ate them.