Ravenous meat-eating dinosaur’s guts preserved in exceptionally rare fossil

More than 120 million years ago in what is now China, a hungry dromaeosaurid dinosaur ate a small frog.

Daurlong wangi holotype: (a) whole specimen, (b) skull, (c) detail of orbit region, (d) feather remains associated to the thoracic vertebrae, (e) frog skeleton. Scale bars – 20 mm in (b), 10 mm in (c). Image credit: Wang et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-24602-x.

The new dinosaur species lived in Inner Mongolia, China, during the Early Cretaceous epoch, between 130 and 120 million years ago.

Dubbed Daurlong wangi, the ancient creature was a type of mid-sized dromaeosaurid, a group of bird-like predatory dinosaurs that fed on fish, mammals and other dinosaurs.

The animal was part of the famous Jehol Biota, an Early Cretaceous terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem preserved in a multi-layered rock formation in western Liaoning Province and neighboring areas in northeastern China.

“Dromaeosauridae is a clade of small- to mid-sized theropod dinosaurs known from the Cretaceous of both hemispheres,” said Dr. Xuri Wang from the Institute of Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and colleagues.

“The Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota from north-eastern China has provided a rich diversity of dromaeosaurids, the majority of which referred to Microraptorinae.”

“Their abundance, when not due to taxonomic oversplitting, may be ecologically explained assuming niche segregation and avoidance of direct resource competition,” they added.

The paleontologists described Daurlong wangi from an almost complete skeleton found at the Pigeon Hill locality of the Longjiang Formation in Inner Mongolia.

“The holotype of Daurlong wangi is an almost complete and articulated skeleton with a length of about 1.5 m,” they said.

The researchers also found the partial skeleton of an ancient frog in the gut contents of Daurlong wangi.

“The reconstruction of the gastrointestinal track in extinct species, including dinosaurs, could be inferred, indirectly, from gut content remains; less frequently by the analysis of coprolite contents; and rarely from exceptionally preserved remnants of the soft tissues,” they said.

“The Daurlong wangi specimen shows the first case of intestinal preservation in a theropod lineage very close to bird ancestry.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.


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