NEW YORK (AP) — An unusual discovery in China suggests some early mammals may have hunted dinosaurs for dinner.
A badger-like creature depicts a small, beaked dinosaur with their skeletons intertwined. The discovery comes from a site known as the “Pompeii of China,” where mud and debris from long-ago volcanoes buried creatures in their tracks.
“It looks like a prehistoric hunt, captured in stone like a frozen frame,” University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brussaud, who was not involved in the study, said in an email.
The fossil is described in Tuesday’s issue Scientific reportsIt shows two species from the Cretaceous period, about 125 million years ago.
Although the mammal was very small, researchers think it hit the dinosaur when the two became trapped in a lava flow, said study author Jordan Mallon, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The mammal sits on top of the dinosaur, its teeth sinking into the ribs while its paws grip the reptile’s jaw and hind legs.
“I’ve never seen a fossil like this before,” Mallon said.
Proposed that mammals ate dinosaur meat: Another fossil showed A mammal died with dinosaur remains in its gut. But Mallon said the new discovery suggests that mammals may have actually hunted dinosaurs many times their size, and not just scavenged ones that were already dead.
“It turns the old narrative on its head,” Brusat said. “We’re used to thinking of the age of the dinosaurs as a time when dinosaurs ruled the world, and small mammals slunk into the shadows.”
The study authors acknowledge that there are few known fossil fakes from this part of the world, which Mallon said was a concern when they began their research. But after making his own preparations of the skeletons and analyzing rock samples, he is confident that the fossil found by a farmer in 2012 is genuine and welcomes other scientists to study the fossil.
The mammal in the fossil twin was the carnivorous Rebenomamus robustus, about the size of a house cat, Mallon said. The dinosaur – Psittosaurus lugiatunensis – was as large as a medium-sized dog with a parrot-like beak.
This species was a herbivore, but other dinosaurs were either carnivorous or both. In the end, dinosaurs probably still ate mammals more often than they would have otherwise, Mallon said.
“We now know that even mammals were sometimes able to fight back,” he said.
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