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September 16, 2008 | Mark | Comments 0

Dinosaur’s Last Supper Revealed

A new paper supports that Leonardo the Dinosaur Mummy has his 77 million year old last meal preserved in his guts, offering a window into the environment and possible diet of the power-munching duckbilled dinosaurs.

The paper titled “Probable Gut Contents Within A Specimen Of Brachylophosaurus Canadensis (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae) From the Upper Cretaceous Judith River Formation Of Montana” has just been published by Justin Tweet and co-authored by renowned coprolite(fossil-dung) researcher Karen Chin and others, in the earth history journal Palaios.

Abstracts from the abstract read “An exceptionally preserved subadult specimen (JRF 115H) of a hadrosaurid, Brachylophosaurus canadensis, from the Judith River Formation near Malta, Montana, contains abundant plant fragments concentrated within the body cavity. We examined the taphonomy of the carcass and analyzed the gut-region material to test whether the organic remains represent fossilized gut contents…”

“…..Most of the organics appear to be mm-scale leaf fragments. The most parsimonious explanation for the presence and composition of the gut-region material is that much of the plant fossils represent reworked brachylophosaur ingesta influenced by flowing water that entered through openings in the carcass and introduced clay. The evidence strongly suggests that the hadrosaurid ate significant quantities of leaves and processed them into small pieces. This study provides baseline information for analyzing other cases of putative gut contents in herbivorous dinosaurs.”

Dinosaur Gut Contents

The Dinosaur's Last Supper; Gut Contents exposed under skin and ribs in preparation © M.Thompson

This is a cool piece of work and solid step towards preparing the gut contents of Leonardo for further study, although the usual ‘mummy enigma’ exists as to how best explain the observed features. The explanation for the high clay content is a little difficult to swallow and the food was sliced finer than Gordon Ramsay in a hissy fit, so it was not possible to get an accurate ID on the leaf fragments as accurate as the pollen grains. But that’s what happens with Leonardo; you are stopped just short of definitive answers because the simplest and most likely explanation is at the same time so rare and unlikely taphonomically. Yet there it is…begging to be explained.

One could (but I cannot) avoid pointing out this is a healthy movement for the intrepid researchers; raising their microscopes up from scattered chips of dinosaur poo to skirt the rim and thrust towards the fertile coprolite-spawning grounds of the gut and stomach. They had already found evidence of parasitic worms in the fossilised remains, and now the whole gut story laid out is the chocolate icing of the cake….

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