An early flying dinosaur called the microraptor preyed on both fish and land animals, researchers have found. The creature is from the Cretaceous period.
"It had long feathers on its forearms, hind legs and tail. It was capable of short, controlled flights," Scott Persons, graduate student at the University of Alberta, said in a press release. The beast is probably most recognizable from the movie Jurassic Park, although it appears much larger in the film that it actually was, and has no feathers.
Scientists studied an ancient fossil of the dinosaur preserved in volcanic ash found in China. The ash preserved the stomach contents of the creature for thousands of years.
Scientists were able to analyze what the raptor ate as well as where it lived. After analysis, researchers found fish and marine mammals in the stomach of the dinosaur. This is the first time evidence has shown microraptors preyed on fish.
"Now we know that Microraptor operated in varied terrain and had a varied diet. 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," Persons said.
Previously, paleontologists believed microraptors were similar to hawks, eating small birds and mammals. This research shows the creature has uniquely formed teeth, with a serrated edge on one side and ones that angled forward like a spike on the other side.
Typically, like the Tyrannosaurus rex or T-rex, meat-eating dinosaurs had a serrated edge on both sides of their jaws, allowing them to cut through their prey. However, an angled edge of teeth allows the creature to impale and grasp slippery fish.
"Microraptor seems adapted to impale fish on its teeth. With reduced serrations the prey wouldn't tear itself apart while it struggled. Microraptor could simply raise its head back, the fish would slip off the teeth and be swallowed whole, no fuss no muss," Persons said.