What kind of predator could possibly attack a dinosaur?
A pivotal moment of the Cretaceous era has been immortalized in an extraordinary fossil uncovered by scientists from Canada and China, redefining our understanding of prehistoric animal interactions. A fossil record has brought to light a mysterious Cretaceous-era predator attacking a dinosaur that experts described as being much larger.
Fossil Record Shows Mystery Predator Attacking a Dinosaur
The unique 125-million-year-old fossil documents a lethal encounter between a meat-eating mammal and a significantly larger plant-eating dinosaur, offering rare insights into predatory behavior from an era when dinosaurs were the ruling class. “The fossil illustrates a life-and-death struggle, suggesting mammals were capable predators of dinosaurs,” explains Dr. Jordan Mallon, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature and co-author of the study, recently published in Scientific Reports.
Shaking Up Prehistoric Paradigms
This discovery challenges the long-held belief that dinosaurs, during their reign in the Cretaceous, faced limited threat from mammalian species. The exceptional fossil now graces the collections of the Weihai Ziguang Shi Yan School Museum in China’s Shandong province.
Identified as a Psittacosaurus species, the herbivorous dinosaur in the meticulously preserved fossil was approximately the size of a large dog. Living during the Late Cretaceous in Asia, these are among the earliest known horned dinosaurs. The mammalian counterpart, ‘Repenomamus robustus’, was a badger-like creature and, although not large in comparison to the dinosaurs, it was among the largest mammals of its time. “This unusual fossil reveals unprecedented predatory behavior,” adds Mallon.
From China’s “Dinosaur Pompeii”
The extraordinary fossil was unearthed in the fossil-rich Liaoning province in China back in 2012. Thanks to the area’s propensity for sudden, volcanic-induced mudslides, the almost perfectly preserved skeletons were preserved in what’s been named China’s “Dinosaur Pompeii”.
Dr. Aaron Lussier, a mineralogist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, confirmed the existence of volcanic material within the fossil. The fossil was then meticulously examined, revealing the Repenomamus perched atop its prey, grasping the larger dinosaur’s jaw.
A Predator Attacking a Dinosaur
“The evidence points towards an active hunt,” Dr. Mallon states, dismissing any suggestion that the Repenomamus was merely scavenging. There are no tooth marks on the dinosaur’s bones, further solidifying the idea that it was not being scavenged but hunted. The aggressive position of the mammal also indicates its intent to hunt rather than scavenge.
Such situations of smaller creatures attacking larger prey are not unheard of today, as seen in the behavior of wolverines and African wild dogs. “The Repenomamus might have been consuming the Psittacosaurus while it was still alive, a possibility mirrored in modern predator-prey relationships,” explains Mallon.
The researchers speculate that the volcanic deposits of the Lujiatun fossil beds will continue to reveal further unexpected interactions, shaping our understanding of prehistoric ecosystems.
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