Friday, 23 September 2016

Favourite figures from papers 3: The eating edition

After the edition a fortnight ago, I've had no further suggestions for favourite figures so thought I should do a few themed topics. Today's theme is eating, not just because I love eating, and I've already featured a couple of cases of fossils with taxa eating each other (be it pterosaurs with fish being eaten by fish, or the fighting dinosaurs), but because of this specific fossil which caught my eye last week and has featured heavily in lots recently:

 Fig 1. from Smith and Scanferla 2016.
Fig. 2 from Smith and Scanferla 2016.
The second author (Agustín Scanferla) is a colleague we've done field work with in Argentina and the fossil is amazing. The fossil is from Messel (48 million years old) in Germany, and shows a snake (Fig 2a grey) with a lizard (Fig 2a orange),  in its gut. In the gut of the lizard is a beetle (Fig 2a turquoise).

1) Fish within a fish
Fig 4. from Walker and Everhart 2006. The impossible fossil - revisited.
This famous fossil shows a 14ft long Xiphactinus fish with a 6ft long Gilicus fish inside it. It was collected by George F Stenberg (a relative of the famous Sternbergs known for the many fossils, particularly dinosaurs in Canada) in 1952. Xiphactinus is a famous fish species for its love of eating other big fish, with about 13 known specimens showing other large fish inside.

2) Dinosaur eating mammal
Fig 3. from Hu et al., 2005. Large Mesozoic mammals fed on young dinosaurs
Whilst everyone always assumes that during the Mesozoic mammals are small and hiding from the dinosaurs trying to eat them, this fossil proves otherwise. Repenomamus robustus was a badger sized mammal that has the remains of dinosaurs in its guts.

3) Dinosaur eating dinosaur

Fig 1 and 5 from Xing et al., 2012. Abdominal Contents from Two Large Early Cretaceous Compsognathids (Dinosauria: Theropoda) Demonstrate Feeding on Confuciusornithids and Dromaeosaurids
Jurassic Park may have skewed people's opinions of which dinosaurs were likely to eat other dinosaurs. Compsognathids are presumed to be small chicken sized dinosaurs, and dromeosaurs are the big terrorising creatures. This fossil shows that is not always the case, with a large compsognathid (Sinocalliopteryx gigas) preserving gut contents including dromeosaur limbs and feathers.

4) Birds have long eaten seeds
Fig 1a. from Zhou and Zhang, 2002. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China
This large early bird from the Jehol of China (Jeholornis prima) preserves a mass of over 50 seeds (the small round things lower centre of the image) in its guts. Whilst this may not seem that exciting, new research this year suggests the ability to process seeds may be important in the survival of birds when the dinosaurs died out.

5) Deinocheirus ate fish?
Extended data Fig 7 from Lee et al., 2014. Resolving the long-standing enigmas of a giant ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus
Anyone who has read the blog for a while knows I've got a soft spot for ornithomimosaurs because I did my PhD on them. They are an incredibly strange group that loses their teeth and evolve beaks, and this change (and a bunch of others) has been linked to a change in diet from carnivory to herbivory. The massive, and now with a body, Deinocheirus seems to have gastroliths for eating plant materials, but also preserves fish bones within its stomach. Whether this was deliberate hunting of fish, accidental ingestion of them, or one of the many other ways for fish remains to end up there, is still uncertain. With more fossils will hopefully be more clarity on the matter.

There are countless other ones I could have picked. Whether it was ichthyosaurs with belemnite hooklets, or other dinosaurs and mammals with their various prey/flora gut contents. If you have any amazing ones, let me know and I am happy to add them in after. 

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