Enlarge / The two skeletons are completely intertwined. (credit: Gang Han)

A new fossil described this week captures two intertwined animals caught in a life-or-death struggle right before both were entombed in a volcanic event. Published in Scientific Reports this Tuesday, the fossil doesn’t capture one dinosaur attacking another—rather, the predator in this case is a smaller mammal known as Repenomamus robustus, and it died with its teeth clamped upon the herbivorous Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, a dinosaur three times its size.

Gut contents from a Repenomamus fossil described in 2005 prove this same mammalian species ate very young and considerably smaller Psittacosaurus. But the remarkable fossil revealed today is the first evidence of any Cretaceous mammal attacking a larger dinosaur. It’s an astounding snapshot of ancient behavior, challenging previous assumptions of predator/prey dynamics millions of years ago.

A final struggle

These two species in the fossil couldn’t be more different. Psittacosaurus is a type of bipedal ceratopsian dinosaur—an early relative of dinosaurs such as Triceratops—with a large beak-like snout and spiky tail bristles. This was a herd animal, and it’s the most commonly found fossil in the Lujiatun Member of the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China. This particular Psittacosaurus was approximately 6.5–10 years old when it died.

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