Newly discovered fossils of the small flying-dinosaur Microraptor have revealed a somewhat surprising, and previously unknown, aspect of the animal’s behavior; in addition to preying on birds and small mammals, they also ate fish. That’s a surprisingly diverse diet, and suggest thats they lived across a much wider and more diverse range of environments than previously thought.
Fossilized remains of a Microraptor with it’s stomach still full of fish were recently discovered in China, sparking further analysis that uncovered the animal’s specializations for preying on fish.
University of Alberta paleontology graduate student Scott Persons said: “We were very fortunate that this Microraptor was found in volcanic ash and its stomach content of fish was easily identified.”
Before this discovery, the dominant belief was that microraptors, roughly the size of modern hawks, preyed almost exclusively on small mammals and birds.
“Now we know that Microraptor operated in varied terrain and had a varied diet,” said Persons. “It took advantage of a variety of prey in the wet, forested environment that was China during the early Cretaceous period, 120 million years ago.”
Additional analysis of the fossil made it clear that the microraptor’s teeth were very well adapted to “catching slippery, wiggling prey like fish.” Researchers have established that most meat eaters had teeth with serrations on both sides which like a steak knife helped the predator saw through meat.”
The Microraptor’s teeth, though, are serrated only on one side, and the teeth are angled forwards towards the opening of the mouth.
“Microraptor seems adapted to impale fish on its teeth. With reduced serrations the prey wouldn’t tear itself apart while it struggled,” said Persons. “Microraptor could simply raise its head back, the fish would slip off the teeth and be swallowed whole, no fuss no muss.”
Interestingly, the researchers say that the wing configuration of the microraptor is rather comparable to that of a bi-plane. “It had long feathers on its forearms, hind legs and tail,” said Persons. “It was capable of short, controlled flights.”
This new fossil is the first, and so far only, evidence of a flying raptor (Dromaeosaur family of dinosaurs) that successfully preyed on fish.
Just goes to show how quickly established knowledge can be forced to be rewritten with the discovery of something as simple as a single fossil.