March 7, 2012
Velociraptors Didn’t Turn Down Free Meals
Scientists have found evidence that specialized predators, such as the velociraptor, may not have been willing to turn down a free meal. A bone from a pterosaur (or “Pterodactyl”) has reportedly been found in the gut of a velociraptor that lived in the Gobi desert of Magnolia more than 75 million years ago.
The scientists published their findings online in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology. This discovery suggests that the velociraptor may not have only depended on what it was able to kill for itself for a meal.
The velociraptor wielded sickle-shaped talons on the second toe of each foot. Previous research has documented that velociraptors would use these vicious talons to slash their prey and prevent them from escaping. However, if hunting was scarce and the opportunity arose, this new find suggests that the velociraptor was willing to scavenge rather than hunt.
The velociraptor isn´t alone in being able consume and swallow large bones. Scientists point out that other non-avian dinosaurs have been found with large bones in their guts. Even modern day crocodiles have the ability to stomach such material.
The research team involved scientists from all over the globe including scientists from University College Dublin, Ireland; the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatr, Mongolia; the National Museum of Nature and Sciences, Tokyo, Japan; and the Museum of Natural Sciences, Okayama, Japan.
David Hone was at the University College Dublin´s School of Biology and Environmental Sciences when the remains were being examined. In the study, Dr Hone said: “It would be difficult and probably even dangerous for the small theropod dinosaur to target a pterosaur with a wingspan of 2 meters or more, unless the pterosaur was already ill or injured. So the pterosaur bone we've identified in the gut of the velociraptor was most likely scavenged from a carcass rather than the result of a predatory kill."
Just how small were velociraptors? According to Alok Jha of The Guardian, in 1998, paleontologist Mark Norell studied the fossilized forearms of velociraptors found in Mongolia. He found that the predator stood just one-meter tall. In the Journal Science, Norell stated “The more that we learn about these animals the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like velociraptor.”
The vast difference in size provides more evidence that the velociraptor wouldn´t be likely to take down this giant flying dinosaur on its own.
The pterosaur´s bone in question is nearly 3 inches long and was lodged in the velociraptors ribcage, near where the stomach would have been located. After studying the bone, the researchers believe that the pterosaur may have been the velociraptors last meal.
"The surface of the bone is smooth and in good condition, with no unusual traces of marks or deformation that could be attributed to digestive acids. So it's likely that the Velociraptor itself died not long after ingesting the bone," said Dr Hone in a statement. In addition to the lodged pterosaur bone, the scientists noted online that they also found a broken rib with signs of regrowth. This suggests to the scientists that the predator was either injured or recovering from an injury whenever it died.
On the Net:
- Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology
- University College Dublin
- Image Courtesy Esteban De Armas / Shutterstock