Science

CU scientist: Some plant-eating dinosaurs also snacked on crustaceans

CU scientist: Some plant-eating dinosaurs also snacked on crustaceans”

Some plant-eating dinosaurs apparently liked a side order of crabs to go with their usual salad.

They found mounds of the fossilized feces - called coprolites - dating back between 74 and 76 million years ago in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

"It was surprising to find that the dinosaurs had eaten animal food in the form of crustaceans", said author Karen Chin, an associate professor and curator of palaeontology at the University of Colorado's Museum of Natural History.

"From what we know about dinosaurs, this was a totally unexpected behavior", said Chin.

Ten coprolites from Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument contained crustacean shells mixed with rotted coniferous wood.

Crustaceans, possibly crab, have been found in the sung of horny beaked hadrosaurs that once roamed present day Utah - showing they weren't strictly meat eaters.

No hard evidence links the poop directly to the hadrosaurs but fossils of that specific dino were found among the coprolites.

The size of the crustacean shell bits in the coprolites indicate the crustaceans were at least two inches in length and perhaps larger, said Chin.

Each individual would have been as big as 20 to 60 percent the width of an average hadrosaur beak, meaning it was unlikely they were unwittingly swallowed, she said.

Chin thinks the coprolites likely belonged to a kind of duck-billed dinosaur called hadrosaurs, which were largely herbivorous.

"If we take into account the size of the crustaceans and that they were probably wriggling when they were scooped up, the dinosaurs would have likely been aware of them and made a choice to ingest them", Chin explained.

Chin published the findings in the Scientific Reports journal Thursday along with Kent State University co-authors Rodney Feldmann, a professor emeritus, and Jessica Tashman, a doctoral student.

Utah was likely next to or near a sea during the Cretaceous Period.

She also suspects the consumption of crustaceans was a seasonal dietary shift, perhaps tied to the breeding and egg laying activities of dinosaurs.

The findings challenge common presumptions of the feeding habits of some herbivorous dinosaurs.

Their diets may have been more akin to that of birds, which often seek extra protein and calcium during the breeding season, than to that of large herbivorous mammals, such as elephants and giraffes, the researchers suggest. Additional analysis of the coprolites revealed significant amounts of the calcium.

Two hadrosaurs that lived in the area at the time were: Parasaurolophus, roughly 33 feet (10 meters) long with a long tubular head crest; and Gryposaurus, about 39 feet (12 meters) long with an arched nasal crest. Some paleontologists believe they roamed in herds and nurtured their young.



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