What did Dinosaurs Eat? Now we Know

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An artist's illustration of Borealopelta markmitchelli, enjoying a meal of ferns
An artist’s illustration of Borealopelta markmitchelli, enjoying a meal of ferns
Julius Csotonyi, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

There’s only so much we can learn about dinosaurs from their dusty old bones. But now, palaeontologists have gathered some fascinating new insights by studying the stomach contents of an incredibly well-preserved nodosaur. They can tell not just what its last meal was, but how it browsed for food and even what time of year it died.

The findings come from one of the most impressive dinosaur fossils ever discovered. The 110-million-year-old specimen is a new species named Borealopelta markmitchelli, from the armored ankylosauria group. It was uncovered in 2011 in a mine in Alberta, Canada, preserved in three dimensions and so intact that it still sported skin, scales and stomach contents.

“The finding of the actual preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is extraordinarily rare, and this stomach recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum team is by far the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date,” says Jim Basinger, an author of the study.

The researchers peered inside this soccer-ball-sized mass to see what the creature had been eating. Unsurprisingly, this Borealopelta markmitchelli’s last meal was plants – specifically ferns. Around 88 percent of the material was chewed-up fern leaves, and a further seven percent was stems and twigs.

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