April 23, 2013
Flying Microraptor Feasted On Fish, Say Paleontologists
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Microraptor was a small flying dinosaur known to prey on birds and tree-dwelling mammals. New research led by a team of researchers at the University of Alberta reveals that the Microraptor was a capable aquatic hunter as well and was able to swoop down and pluck fish out of the water.
Scott Persons, a paleontology graduate student at the University of Alberta, says that fossilized remains in China provided evidence of the Microraptor's hunting ability. "We were very fortunate that this Microraptor was found in volcanic ash and its stomach content of fish was easily identified."
The Microraptor was about the size of a modern day hawk. Prior to this study, paleontologists believed that the Microraptor lived in trees and preyed exclusively on small birds and mammals about the size of squirrels.
"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."
The team performed further analysis which revealed that the animal's teeth were adapted to catching slippery, wiggling prey like fish. Most meat-eating dinosaurs had teeth with serrations on both sides. Like a steak knife, these teeth helped the predator saw through the carcass of its prey.
The Microraptor's teeth, by contrast, were serrated on just one side and were angled forwards.
"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."
According to Persons, the Microraptor's wing configuration was like that of a biplane. "It had long feathers on its forearms, hind legs and tail," said Persons. "It was capable of short, controlled flights."
The results of this study were published in the journal Evolution and are the first evidence of a flying raptor — a member of the Dromaeosaur family of dinosaurs — being able to successfully prey on fish.