(CNN)A dinosaur with spectacular armored plates throughout its again grew to become mummified round 110 million years in the past after having fun with one final meal earlier than dying.
And now we all know what it ate for its final meal.
Dinosaur stomachs and proof of their diets are hardly ever preserved. Sometimes, seeds and twigs have been discovered within the guts of dinosaur stays, however by no means conclusive proof concerning the precise crops.
On this case, a muddy tomb encased and preserved the dinosaur so nicely that even its abdomen contents stay to inform us that it was a choosy eater.
The small print of this dinosaur’s plant-based food regimen had been revealed Tuesday within the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“The leaf fragments and different plant fossils had been preserved all the way down to the cells,” mentioned David Greenwood, research coauthor, Brandon College biologist and College of Saskatchewan adjunct professor, in an electronic mail.
The nodosaur, often called Borealopelta markmitchelli, was present in 2011 throughout mining operations north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada.
After its dying, the dinosaur’s stays ended up in what was an historic sea, touchdown on its again within the muddy sea ground and remaining undisturbed till 9 years in the past.
It has been on show on the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta since 2017. The fossil was unveiled after museum technician Mark Mitchell devoted six years to painstakingly revealing the dinosaur’s preserved pores and skin and bones from the marine rock during which it was encased.
In life, the dinosaur — a sort of ankylosaur — weighed greater than a ton. Nevertheless it lived off of crops and favored ferns, primarily based on the contents of its abdomen. The chunk resembling its abdomen is concerning the measurement of a soccer ball.
“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 workforce is by far the best-preserved dinosaur abdomen ever discovered thus far,” mentioned Jim Basinger, research coauthor and College of Saskatchewan geologist, in a press release.
“When folks see this beautiful fossil and are informed that we all know what its final meal was as a result of its abdomen was so nicely 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 truly carried out its day by day actions, the place it lived, and what its most well-liked meals was.”
This discovery sheds gentle on definitive proof of what a big herbivorous dinosaur ate — on this case, a variety of chewed-up fern leaves, some stems and twigs. The small print of the crops had been so nicely preserved within the abdomen that they could possibly be in comparison with samples taken from trendy crops immediately.
“We may see the completely different layers of cells in a leaf fragment together with the dermis with the pores, known as stomata, by which crops absorb carbon dioxide,” Greenwood mentioned. “We may additionally see the floor patterning of the dermis cells, which was like a jigsaw sample that we see on many residing ferns.”
This discovery modified what the researchers know concerning the food regimen of such massive herbivores, and the plant materials revealed extra concerning the dinosaur’s interactions with its atmosphere.
This nodosaur was choosy. The researchers in contrast the contents of its abdomen with fossil leaf research from the identical time interval and area. The nodosaur particularly ate the mushy leaves of sure ferns and largely uncared for widespread cycad and conifer leaves.
Total, they discovered 48 microfossils of pollen and spores together with moss and liverwort, 26 membership mosses and ferns, two flowering crops and 13 conifers.
“The shortage of horsetails, and rarity of cycads and conifers is stunning, on condition that these are quite common within the surrounding flora,” mentioned Caleb Marshall Brown, research creator and curator of dinosaur systematics and evolution on the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, in an electronic mail. “Even inside ferns, it seems like Borealopelta might have had a choice for sure sorts of ferns, whereas ignoring others.”
The preservation of the plant materials in its abdomen urged that the dinosaur died and was buried quickly after consuming. Based mostly on the expansion rings and maturity of among the plant materials, the researchers had been capable of decide that the dinosaur’s dying probably occurred between late spring to mid-summer, Brown mentioned.
Then there’s the matter of charcoal, which was additionally present in its abdomen. That probably meant that it was grazing in an space hit by wildfires. The researchers know that forest fires had been widespread in forests through the early Cretaceous interval, 100 million to 145 million years in the past. And after forest fires, ferns flourish low to the bottom.
“When you consider it, this will likely truly make a variety of sense,” Brown mentioned. “In case you are a nodosaur, you possibly can solely feed near the bottom. This new development will even be extra palatable and has a better nutrient content material than established development [like conifers]. Because of this, many massive mammal herbivores we’re acquainted with immediately will search out not too long ago burned areas in each grasslands and forests, as they supply distinctive feeding alternatives.”
Wildfires probably occurred within the space the place the nodosaur was grazing within the earlier six to 18 months, Greenwood mentioned. That is sufficient time for lush ferns to pop up.
“The invention of charcoal along with a fern-filled abdomen opens a window into the biology of this massive herbivorous armoured dinosaur because it urged Borealopelta was probably a keystone herbivore that formed the panorama by its grazing, and that it additionally grazed on the ferns rising in open areas created by wildfires,” Greenwood mentioned. “That’s so cool.”
Paleobotany, which is the research of plant fossils, supplies perception that dinosaur skeletons merely cannot, Greenwood mentioned.
Gizzard stones, very similar to these swallowed by birds to assist with digestion, had been additionally discovered within the dinosaur’s abdomen.
The researchers will proceed to review the dinosaur to see what different secrets and techniques they might unveil, like how this nodosaur was capable of thrive and obtain such a big measurement with comparatively poor high quality meals, Brown mentioned. Greenwood’s graduate pupil, Jessica Kalyniuk, is finding out fossil crops from the Gates Formation in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Foothills to be taught extra concerning the forests the place the nodosaur lived.