Scientists have found a beautifully preserved, fossilised meal inside the skeleton of a dinosaur.
The meal of tender fern fronds — eaten in a forest regrowing after a bushfire 110 million years ago — was the armoured dinosaur’s last. It died soon after, perhaps drowning in a river or a flash flood, and was washed out to sea.
That unfortunate Cretaceous Period* beast called Borealopelta markmitchelli is teaching scientists about the dietary habits of plant-eating dinosaurs.
The fossil, from the province of Alberta, western Canada, is the best-preserved stomach contents of any plant-eating dinosaur, revealing even the cellular structure* of the leaves and intact spores*.
“Direct evidence of diet in herbivorous* dinosaurs is very rare,” said palaeontologist* Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, lead author of the research. “Almost everything we think we know about the diet of these animals is based on indirect data such as tooth wear, jaw biomechanics*, the available plants and the nutritional content and digestibility* of those plants.”
Borealopelta, 5.5m long and weighing perhaps 900kg to 1.3 tonnes, was a member of a group called nodosaurs. It had a wide body, small head and walked on four short legs. As protection from large meat-eating dinosaurs, its body was studded with osteoderms — bones embedded in the skin — and it had a large spike on each shoulder.
Its stomach contents were mostly leaves of a particular type of fern, with very few leaves of conifers* and cycads*. A lot of charcoal was found in the stomach, indicating it was browsing in a recently burned area.
Also found were dozens of gastroliths, or gizzard stones, swallowed by certain animals including some modern birds and crocodilians* to aid digestion.
The research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
- Cretaceous Period: time in history from 145 million years ago to 66 million years ago, after the Jurassic Period finished
- cellular structure: the way a living thing is built; cells are the basic building blocks of plants and animals
- spores: the babies, or seedlike objects from ferns, fungi, bacteria and algae
- herbivorous: plant eating
- palaeontologist: expert on fossils
- biomechanics: studying how a body moves by looking at its skeleton
- digestibility: whether something is able to be digested, or easily digested
- conifers: ancient plant group with cones, includes cypress or pine trees
- cycads: ancient plant group, often confused with ferns
- crocodilians: group of species including crocodiles and alligators
- How do we know it was the dinosaur’s last meal?
- What country was the fossil found in?
- Was the dinosaur a carnivore (meat) or herbivore (plants)?
- Why was there charcoal in the stomach?
- Why were the stones in the stomach?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Think About It.
Scientists believe that Borealopelta might have died soon after eating the food that they found by drowning in a river and being swept out to sea. Why would they think that? Write down a list of things that might have led them to these ideas about what happened to Borealopelta. Use information in the story and your own ideas.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking
Today’s story mentions a creature called a crocodilian. Although there are crocodilian species alive today, there were other species alive during the time of the dinosaurs. Use your knowledge about modern-day crocodilian species or extinct species to describe one or some of these species. Use your imagination and draw what you think an ancient crocodilian might have looked like and write a story about one.
Time: allow at least 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking
Read with Penny Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.
Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.
Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.
Have 2 turns each.
Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?
Try acting out 2 sentences.
Are you laughing yet?
Have fun acting out your punctuation.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Share a fascinating dinosaur fact.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.