Do you know the dinosaur fast food? - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: This was the fast food of the young dinosaurs

Even in the world of dinosaurs, full-grown tyrannosaurids such as the T. rex were not considered the most feared creatures of their era for nothing. With a body length of up to twelve metres and a weight of up to six tonnes, they were imposing creatures in their own right. Thanks to their powerful jaws and sharp teeth, they had the ability to slay even much larger and armoured herbivores. The discovery of a juvenile tyrannosaur with stomach contents provides the first insight into the eating habits of these dinosaurs.

The last meal

The food source for the young specimens of carnivorous predators has been a mystery until now. New insights into this come from an approximately 75 million-year-old fossil of a juvenile tyrannosaur of the species Gorgosaurus libratus. Fossilised remains of the stomach contents were discovered here for the first time.

It was already known that the young tyrannosaurids had less robust teeth than the adult animals and that their anatomy changed considerably in the course of their lives. However, it remained unclear whether they joined in with the hunting of the adult predators or were left to their own devices, which may have led to changes in their diet depending on their stage of development. The results of a study published in the journal “Science Advances” suggest that the latter is the case.

During preparatory work in the laboratory of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, researchers found parts of two young, bird-like dinosaurs of the species Citipes elegans in the abdominal cavity of a well-preserved Gorgosaurus specimen. These formed the last meal of the young T. rex relative before it died of unknown causes. The fossil was discovered in 2009 in the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, one of the world’s most productive sites for dinosaurs. The juvenile Gorgosaurus was between five and seven years old, measured about four metres in length and weighed around 350 kilograms – about a tenth of the weight of adult animals.

The young Gorgosaurus was picky

Analysis of the stomach contents revealed that the Citipes specimens it devoured were less than a year old and, weighing between nine and twelve kilograms, were about the size of a respectable turkey. It also showed that the young Gorgosaurus was picky, as it only ate the meatiest parts, namely the hind legs. The digestive state of the Citipes bones indicates that the juvenile Gorgosaurus ate the two animals at intervals of hours or days, suggesting that these small dinosaurs were probably a favourite snack.

“This is the first direct evidence that young tyrannosaurids hunted smaller, young dinosaurs,” says Darla Zelenitsky, a dinosaur palaeobiologist from the University of Calgary and lead author of the study along with palaeontologist François Therrien from the Tyrrell Museum. Older representatives of Tyrannosaurus would probably not have bothered with such low-calorie small game, Zelenitsky adds.

These findings suggest that tyrannosaurids occupied different ecological niches depending on their age. At around eleven years of age, when their skulls and teeth were fully mature, they may have switched to large herbivores as their favoured prey. These age-related differences in diet could have represented an evolutionary advantage, as several generations were able to share the same ecosystem relatively peacefully, the research team surmises.

Sladjan Lazic

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