For any paleontologist, the very idea or hint of unearthing pieces of evidence and fossils of ancient creatures is enough to make them feel excited. But sometimes, nature gives us a ‘ treat’ by giving back more than what we expect.
Some researchers in Australia have not only announced a discovery of a new creature but also extraordinary details about what it ate as its last meal.
The team was astonished to find partial remains of a young ornithopod dinosaur inside the stomach of the fossilized crocodile. Matt White from The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum said it was an extraordinary discovery – the world’s first to find dinosaur remains in a crocodile.
Crocodile’s Last Meal Gives Clue to Prehistoric DietIn 2010, a team of paleontologists found the fossilized crocodile near Winton. ABC News reported that it took the team six years to piece the fossils together ad find the first skeletal remains of an ornithopod ever reported in the region. More so, it is the first evidence that crocodiles ate dinosaurs in Australia.
The remains, which were recovered from a sheep station in Queensland, are believed to be more than 95 million years old, according to reports.
“The discovery of a small juvenile ornithopod in the gut contents of a Cretaceous-aged crocodile is extremely rare, as only a handful of examples of dinosaur predation are known globally,” the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum said.
The remains of the ancient dinosaur were first discovered by staff and volunteers from the museum in 2010. Study and research took time because the bones were too fragile and densely packed in a chunk of rock.
Dinosaurs were part of an intricate web of birds, mammals, pterosaurs, and crocodiles and were not precisely at the top of the food chain. The latest discovery demonstrates the direct evidence of the food source of crocodiles back then and that they eat anything that comes close to them.
Previous discoveries have shown that ornithopods already roamed the Earth around 100 million years ago. These dinosaurs are small plant-eaters with beaks and cheeks full of teeth.
“Ornithopods were very cute little dinosaurs, probably a little bit bigger than a chicken at about 1.2 kilograms,” ABC News quoted Dr. White. He added that the ornithopods would have looked like Ducky from “The Land Before Time” movie.
According to Sky News, scientists used high-tech scanning technologies to study the fossils they found at the site. Dr. Joseph Bevitt from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) used neutron and synchrotron X-ray micro-CT scans to identify which bones were located at specific locations.
After that, he sent the data to Dr. White, who digitally prepared the specimen through computer processing to build a 3D reconstruction of the bones, which took him 10 months to accomplish. Around 35% of the skeleton was preserved, including the near-complete skull, although it has no tail and hind legs.
Dr. White said that the freshwater crocodile was likely 2.5 meters long and was still growing when it died. He added that although the Confractosuchus would not have specialized in eating dinosaurs, it also does not say no to an easy meal. Hence, the skeletons of ornithopods inside its stomach.
Moreover, the team estimated the ornithopod to be only a juvenile who weighed around 3.7 pounds (1.7 kilograms). Based on their analysis, the crocodile could have either directly attacked the dinosaur or scavenged it after death. They noticed that one of the femurs was cut in half, while the other femur was bitten because of the tooth mark left on the bone’s surface.