New study finds cannibalism in predatory dinosaurs

May 28, 2020

Big theropod dinosaurs such as Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus ate pretty much everything--including each other, according to a new study, "High Frequencies of Theropod Bite Marks Provide Evidence for Feeding, Scavenging, and Possible Cannibalism in a Stressed Late Jurassic Ecosystem," published last month in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Scavenging, and even cannibalism, is pretty common among modern predators," said lead author Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. "Big theropods, like Allosaurus, probably weren't particularly picky eaters if it meant they got a free meal."

Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 bones from the Jurassic Mygatt-Moore Quarry, a 152-million-year-old fossil deposit in western Colorado, looking for bite marks. They found more than they were expecting.

There were theropod bites on the large-bodied sauropods whose gigantic bones dominate the assemblage, bites on the heavily armored Mymoorapelta, and lots of bites on theropods, too, especially the common remains of Allosaurus. There were hundreds of them, in frequencies far above the norm for dinosaur-dominated fossil sites.

Some were on meaty bones like ribs, but researchers discovered others on tiny toe bones, far from the choicest cuts. Pulled together, the data paints a picture of an ecosystem where dinosaur remains lay out on the landscape for months at a time--a stinky prospect, but one that gave a whole succession of predators and scavengers a turn at eating.

But why were there so many bites on the Mygatt-Moore bones? That question is a little harder to answer, at least without similar surveys from other dinosaur sites for comparison.

The Mygatt-Moore Quarry itself is a little unusual.

Volunteer members of the public have excavated most of the fossils found at the quarry. Julia McHugh, curator of paleontology with the Museums of Western Colorado and a co-author of the study, decided to continue this tradition of outreach by bringing students into the lab to help with the project. Now two of them, Miriam Kane and Anja Riedel, are co-authors on the new study as well.

"Mygatt-Moore is such a unique place," McHugh said. "Science happens here alongside hands-on STEM education with our dig program and volunteers."

Having so many marks on hand let the researchers really dig into details that are sometimes harder to study in smaller collections. For example, theropod teeth are serrated, and once in a while the tooth shape is reflected in the bite marks they make. Another co-author, Domenic D'Amore of Daemen College, had earlier figured out a way to translate those striated tooth marks into body size estimates.

"We can't always tell exactly what species were marking up the Mygatt-Moore bones, but we can say many of these marks were made by something big," D'Amore said. "A few may have been made by theropods larger than any found at the site before."

For more than 30 years, researches and others have worked the Mygatt-Moore Quarry intensively, but even after all that time, each season brings new discoveries in the field and in the lab. This snapshot of dinosaur behavior is proof that old bones can still hold scientific surprises.
-end-
Read the full study online.

Amanda Womac (865-974-2992, awomac1@utk.edu)

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Related Dinosaur Articles from Brightsurf:

Cracking the secrets of dinosaur eggshells
Since the famous discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert in the early 1920s, the fossilized remains have captured the imaginations of paleontologists and the public, alike.

Dinosaur feather study debunked
A new study published in ''Scientific Reports'' provides substantial evidence that the first fossil feather ever to be discovered does belong to the iconic bird-like dinosaur, Archaeopteryx.

How to weigh a dinosaur
A new study looks at dinosaur body mass estimation techniques revealing different approaches still yield strikingly similar results.

How dinosaur research can help medicine
The intervertebral discs connect the vertebrae and give the spine its mobility.

New species of dinosaur discovered on Isle of Wight
A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

First dinosaur eggs were soft like a turtle's
New research suggests that the first dinosaurs laid soft-shelled eggs -- a finding that contradicts established thought.

To think like a dinosaur
Palaeontologists from St Petersburg University have been the first to study in detail the structure of the brain and blood vessels in the skull of the ankylosaur Bissektipelta archibaldi.

New feathered dinosaur was one of the last surviving raptors
Dineobellator notohesperus lived 67 million years ago. Steven Jasinski, who recently earned his doctorate from the School of Arts and Sciences working with Peter Dodson, also of the School of Veterinary Medicine, described the find.

The dinosaur in the cupboard under the stairs
The mystery surrounding dinosaur footprints on a cave ceiling in Central Queensland has been solved after more than a half a century.

How did dinosaur parents know when their kids had a fever?
How Did Dinosaur Parents Know When Their Kids Had a Fever?

Read More: Dinosaur News and Dinosaur Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.