Mammal bites dinosaur in 'once in a lifetime’ fossil find

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A fight scene preserved in a fossil discovered in China suggests the small mammals hunted the dinosaurs that ruled the Earth.

A badger-like mammal sank its teeth into the ribs of a dinosaur three times its size when it was buried in volcanic ash 125 million years ago, capturing the pair in a deadly embrace.

A fight scene preserved in a fossil discovered in China suggests that smaller mammals hunted the dinosaurs that ruled the Earth during the Cretaceous period than previously thought, scientists said Tuesday.

Jordan Mallon, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, told AFP that „my eyes popped out of my head” when he first saw the fossil.

Mallon, co-author of the new study led by Chinese researchers, said they believe the fossil is the first to show mammals and dinosaurs fighting each other.

Mammals were generally considered too small to hunt the dinosaurs that dominated the world during the tens of thousands of years they shared Earth.

But the fossil shows a badger-sized Repenomus robustus perched atop Psittosaurus lugiatunensis, a plant-eating dinosaur that stood 120 centimeters (47 inches) tall and had a parrot-like beak.

The mammal—huge for its time, but still about a third the dinosaur’s weight—sinks its sharp teeth into the dinosaur’s ribs and grabs its leg.

’Fearful Mammals’

The way the pair entwined shows the mammal didn’t scavenge the dead dinosaur, Mallon said.

Because of how many dinosaurs and other animals were preserved by the volcanic debris, the site was nicknamed the 'Chinese Pompeii’.

„The dinosaur slumped down and caught the mammal’s hind leg in the fold of its knee,” indicating an attack, he said.

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Dinosaurs didn’t have any bite marks, which mammals often leave on scavenged bodies.

Mallon said that while mammals rarely hunt animals much larger than them, wolverines are an example of how they prey on much larger caribou.

While the fossil cannot tell whether Rebenomamus hunted alone or in a pack, either is possible, he said.

In 2012, almost complete skeletons were discovered in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province.

They were discovered at a site nicknamed the „Chinese Pompeii” because of how many dinosaurs and other animals were preserved by the volcanic debris, much like the ancient Roman city.

The first fossil to suggest that mammals ate dinosaurs was discovered at a Chinese site in 2005. It showed a baby Pythagorean in the belly of Rebenomamus.

But the new fossil is the first evidence that „there were at least some ferocious mammals in the Cretaceous period … capable of taking down an adult dinosaur,” Mallon said.

The „once-in-a-lifetime” fossil is on display at a museum attached to a primary school in China’s Weihai city, he added.

The study is published in the journal Scientific reports.

More information:
Jordan C. Mallan, an unusual fossil captures the Mesozoic era’s struggle for existence, Scientific reports (2023) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-37545-8.

Press Information:
Scientific reports

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