Rare find: Feathered dinosaur feasts on flying food

August 29, 2012
Holotype of Sinocalliopteryx gigas. Credit: PLOS ONE 7(8): e44012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044012

University of Alberta researchers found evidence that a feathered, but flightless dinosaur was able to snag and consume small flying dinosaurs.

The U of A paleontology team found the fossilized remains of three dinosaurs in the belly of a raptor-like predator called Sinocalliopteryx. Sinocalliopteryx was about two meters in length and roughly the size of a modern-day wolf.

Sinocalliopteryx's flying meals were three Confuciusornis. Confuciusornis was one of the earliest birds and had a crude version of a modern bird's skeleton and muscles. The researchers say such primitive birds were probably limited to slow take-offs and short flights.

According to the researchers, this is the first time a predator has been linked to the killing of multiple flying dinosaurs.

Scott Persons, a U of A paleontology student and research coauthor, says Sinocalliopteryx may have used stealth to stalk the flyers. "Sinocalliopteryx didn't have wings or the physical tools needed to be an adept tree climber," said Persons.

Persons explains Sinocalliopteryx had feathers or hair-like fuzz covering its body creating a level of insulation that helped maintain a warm body temperature and that required a lot of food to fuel.

"The fact that this Sinocalliopteryx had, not one, but three undigested in its stomach indicate it was a voracious eater and a very active hunter," said Persons.

This find was made in China's Liaoning province, and U of A researchers analyzed stomach contents of a second Sinocalliopteryx from that area. The researchers identified this Sinocalliopteryx's last meal as a Sinornithosaurus, a small feathered meat-eater about the size of a house cat that may have been able to fly or glide short distances.

"Sinornithosaurus is a relative of which means this is the first direct evidence of a raptor becoming another predatory dinosaur's meal," said Persons.

The research was published Aug. 29 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Explore further: Feathers too weak for early bird flight

More information: Xing L, Bell PR, Persons WS IV, Ji S, Miyashita T, et al. (2012) Abdominal Contents from Two Large Early Cretaceous Compsognathids (Dinosauria: Theropoda) Demonstrate Feeding on Confuciusornithids and Dromaeosaurids. PLOS ONE 7(8): e44012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044012 . dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0044012

Related Stories

Feathers too weak for early bird flight

May 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The evolution of flight took longer than previously thought with the ancestors of modern birds “rubbish” at flying, if they flew at all, according to a Manchester scientist.

Archaeopteryx and the dinosaur-bird family tree

September 15, 2011

The magpie-sized Archaeopteryx had bird and dinosaur features and helped show that birds evolved from dinosaurs. However, recent research in the journal Nature questions its position in the dinosaur-bird family tree.

Dinosaur species attracted mates similar to a peacock

November 9, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study presented at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology shows that the Oviraptor dinosaur had a tail structure that allowed it to shake its tail feathers, possibly to attract potential mates.

Evidence found of dinosaur that ate birds

November 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When people think of dinosaurs, their thoughts generally turn to the giant guys munching plants, or the ferocious beasts preying on smaller animals. In recent years however, evidence has come to support the ...

Poisonous prehistoric 'raptor' discovered in China

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A group of University of Kansas researchers working with Chinese colleagues have discovered a venomous, birdlike raptor that thrived some 128 million years ago in China. This is the first report of venom ...

Recommended for you

Ancient parrot fossil found in Siberia

October 26, 2016

(Phys.org)—A Russian paleontologist has discovered a parrot fossil uncovered in Siberia several years ago—the first evidence of parrots living in Asia. In his paper published in Biology Letters, Nikita Zelenkov describes ...

Ancient burials suggestive of blood feuds

October 24, 2016

There is significant variation in how different cultures over time have dealt with the dead. Yet, at a very basic level, funerals in the Sonoran Desert thousands of years ago were similar to what they are today. Bodies of ...

Meet Savannasaurus, Australia's newest titanosaur

October 21, 2016

The outback region around Winton in central Queensland is arguably Australia's ground zero for giant dinosaur fossils. Here, graziers occasionally stumble across petrified bones on their paddocks, amid the stubbly grass and ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.