Greater than 110 million years in the past, a lumbering 1,300-kilogram (~2900 lbs), armor-plated dinosaur ate its final meal, died, and was washed out to sea in what’s now northern Alberta. This historic beast then sank onto its thorny again, churning up mud within the seabed that entombed it — till its fossilized physique was found in a mine close to Fort McMurray in 2011.
Since then, researchers on the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alta., Brandon College, and the College of Saskatchewan (USask) have been working to unlock the extraordinarily well-preserved nodosaur’s many secrets and techniques — together with what this massive armored dinosaur (a kind of ankylosaur) really ate for its final meal.
“The discovering of the particular preserved abdomen contents from a dinosaur is very uncommon, and this abdomen recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum group is by far the best-preserved dinosaur abdomen ever discovered to this point,” stated USask geologist Jim Basinger, a member of the group that analyzed the dinosaur’s abdomen contents, a distinct mass concerning the measurement of a soccer ball.
“When individuals see this gorgeous fossil and are advised that we all know what its final meal was as a result of its abdomen was so effectively preserved contained in the skeleton, it is going to nearly convey the beast again to life for them, offering a glimpse of how the animal really carried out its each day actions, the place it lived, and what its most well-liked meals was.”
There was plenty of hypothesis about what dinosaurs ate, however little or no identified. In a just-published article in Royal Society Open Science, the group led by Royal Tyrrell Museum paleontologist Caleb Brown and Brandon College biologist David Greenwood offers detailed and definitive proof of the eating regimen of enormous, plant-eating dinosaurs — one thing that has not been identified conclusively for any herbivorous dinosaur till now.
“This new research adjustments what we all know concerning the eating regimen of enormous herbivorous dinosaurs,” stated Brown. “Our findings are additionally exceptional for what they will inform us concerning the animal’s interplay with its surroundings, particulars we don’t often get simply from the dinosaur skeleton.”
Earlier research had proven proof of seeds and twigs within the intestine however these research supplied no info as to the sorts of vegetation that had been eaten. Whereas tooth and jaw form, plant availability and digestibility have fuelled appreciable hypothesis, the particular vegetation herbivorous dinosaurs consumed has been largely a thriller.
So what was the final meal of Borealopelta markmitchelli (which implies “northern protect” and acknowledges Mark Mitchell, the museum technician who spent greater than 5 years rigorously exposing the pores and skin and bones of the dinosaur from the fossilized marine rock)?
“The final meal of our dinosaur was principally fern leaves — 88 p.c chewed leaf materials and 7 p.c stems and twigs,” stated Greenwood, who can be a USask adjunct professor.
“After we examined skinny sections of the abdomen contents beneath a microscope, we had been shocked to see superbly preserved and concentrated plant materials. In marine rocks we nearly by no means see such very good preservation of leaves, together with the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.”
Group members Basinger, Greenwood and Brandon College graduate scholar Jessica Kalyniuk in contrast the abdomen contents with meals vegetation identified to be obtainable from the research of fossil leaves from the identical interval within the area. They discovered that the dinosaur was a choosy eater, selecting to eat explicit ferns (leptosporangiate, the most important group of ferns at the moment) over others, and never consuming many cycad and conifer leaves frequent to the Early Cretaceous panorama.
Particularly, the group recognized 48 palynomorphs (microfossils like pollen and spores) together with moss or liverwort, 26 clubmosses and ferns, 13 gymnosperms (principally conifers), and two angiosperms (flowering vegetation).
“Additionally, there may be appreciable charcoal within the abdomen from burnt plant fragments, indicating that the animal was looking in a lately burned space and was making the most of a current fireplace and the flush of ferns that incessantly emerges on a burned panorama,” stated Greenwood.
“This adaptation to a fireplace ecology is new info. Like giant herbivores alive at the moment corresponding to moose and deer, and elephants in Africa, these nodosaurs by their feeding would have formed the vegetation on the panorama, presumably sustaining extra open areas by their grazing.”
The group additionally discovered gastroliths, or gizzard stones, typically swallowed by animals corresponding to herbivorous dinosaurs and at the moment’s birds corresponding to geese to assist digestion.
“We additionally know that based mostly on how well-preserved each the plant fragments and animal itself are, the animal’s demise and burial should have adopted shortly after the final meal,” stated Brown. “Crops give us a significantly better concept of season than animals, they usually point out that the final meal and the animal’s demise and burial all occurred within the late spring to mid-summer.”
“Taken collectively, these findings allow us to make inferences concerning the ecology of the animal, together with how selective it was in selecting which vegetation to eat and the way it could have exploited forest fireplace regrowth. It would additionally help in understanding of dinosaur digestion and physiology.”
Borealopelta markmitchelli, found throughout mining operations on the Suncor Millennium open pit mine north of Fort McMurray, has been on show on the Royal Tyrrell Museum since 2017. The principle chunk of the abdomen mass is on show with the skeleton.
Different members of the group embody museum scientists Donald Henderson and Dennis Braman, and Brandon College analysis affiliate and USask alumna Cathy Greenwood.
Analysis continues on Borealopelta markmitchelli — one of the best fossil of a nodosaur ever discovered — to be taught extra about its surroundings and behavior whereas it was alive. Pupil Kalyniuk is presently increasing her work on fossil vegetation of this age to raised perceive the composition of the forests during which it lived. Most of the fossils she’s going to look at are in Basinger’ collections at USask.
Reference: “Dietary palaeoecology of an Early Cretaceous armoured dinosaur (Ornithischia; Nodosauridae) based mostly on floral evaluation of abdomen contents” by Caleb M. Brown, David R. Greenwood, Jessica E. Kalyniuk, Dennis R. Braman, Donald M. Henderson, Cathy L. Greenwood and James F. Basinger, 3 June 2020, Royal Society Open Science.
The analysis was funded by Canada Basis for Innovation, Analysis Manitoba, Pure Sciences and Engineering Analysis Council of Canada, Nationwide Geographic Society, Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society, and Suncor Canada, in addition to in-kind help from Olympus Canada.