An unusual fossil found in China suggests that some early mammals may have preyed on dinosaur, according to new research.
The fossil — which is reported to have dated back to around 125 million years ago — was found in China’s Liaoning Province in 2012, the Canadian Museum of Nature said in a release.
It comes from an area of fossil beds dubbed “China’s Dinosaur Pompeii,” referring to the fossils of animals and dinosaurs in the area that had been buried suddenly by mudslides and debris following volcanic eruptions.
The existence of such volcanic material in the study’s fossil was confirmed, the museum wrote, after analysis from Canadian Museum of Nature mineralogist Dr. Aaron Lussier.
This illustration provided by the Canadian Museum of Nature shows a reconstruction of a dinosaur being attacked by a mammal 125 million years ago. ((Michael W. Skrepnick/Canadian Museum of Nature via AP))
The dinosaur in the fossil is identified as a species of a plant-eating Psittacosaurus, which lived in Asia during the Early Cretaceous — or around 105 to 125 million years ago. Psittacosaurus was an early relative of the horned dinosaur lineage, with a parrot-like beak.
The mammal was apparently a badger-like animal called Repenomamus robustus, which was among the largest mammals during that period. It had short limbs, a long tail, a curvy body and shearing teeth.
Before the discovery of this fossil, palaeontologists knew that Repenomamus preyed on dinosaurs including Psittacosaurus because of fossilized baby bones of the herbivore found in the mammal’s stomach, the museum said.
This image of a fossil provided by the Canadian Museum of Nature shows the left hind foot of a mammal gripping the left lower leg of a dinosaur. (Gang Han/Canadian Museum of Nature via AP)
The museum highlighted that researchers had ruled out that the mammal was scavenging a dead dinosaur, because the dinosaur bones have no tooth marks and the position of the Repenomamus suggests it was also the aggressor.
The research team speculated that the volcanically derived deposits from the fossil beds in China will continue to yield new evidence of interactions among species.
This image of a fossil provided by the Canadian Museum of Nature shows the left hand of a mammal wrapped around the lower jaw of a dinosaur. (Gang Han/Canadian Museum of Nature via AP)
“The fossil’s presence challenges the view that dinosaurs had few threats from their mammal contemporaries during the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs were the dominant animals,” the museum wrote.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.