A small, unusual skeleton in fossilized dinosaur yak discovered back in 1989 might not be the creature we thought it was after all.
So what actually got caught in this prehistoric upchuck? Italian scientists tackle one heck of a cold case.
Meet the Top 10 Meat-Eating Dinos: Photos
When researchers came across a unique fossil in Northern Italy in 1989, they concluded it was dinosaur vomit roughly 220 million years old. The fossil lacked the mineralization that would have put it in the dinosaur poop category - that's "coprolite" if you want to be technical.
They also identified the bones captured for eternity inside the puke as a tiny winged pterosaur. These reptilian dinosaur cousins evolved into dozens of species, and were the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight, according to the American Museum of Natural History.
Vomit like this, usually from a predator regurgitating indigestible animal parts, is called a "gastric pellet" containing "ejecta." Owl pellets are basically the same thing, PLOS blogger Andrew Farke pointed out.
Top 10 Largest Dinosaurs
Although pterosaurs could range in size from a sparrow to an F-16 fighter jet, the one in Northern Italy was small. And rare. For decades it was "one of the very few cases of gastric ejecta containing pterosaur bones," the researchers wrote in their recent PLOS ONE journal article. The group included paleontologist Fabio Marco Dalla Vecchia, who worked on the 1989 study.
But closer examination prompted the group to doubt there was a winged pterosaur in the vom. Using an X-ray microCT, they compared the bones with basal pterosaurs and concluded it had to be a different animal. The bones seem like they belonged to a lizard-like protorosaur, only not the same species found in the same rock formation where the puke was discovered.
Cockroaches Munched on Dinosaur Poop
Studying gastric pellets to better understand the animals that produce them and what they preyed on sounds like fun. As a mystery-obsessed kid, I went on a class field trip to the Boston Museum of Science once. I loved dissecting owl pellets there so much that I snuck into a second session with a different school group.
The Italian scientists still aren't entirely sure what the heck is in that fossilized dino yak, though. Looks like they need to keep digging.
via PLOS Blogs