Researchers have found that some large herbivore dinosaurs may not have followed the strictly vegetarian diet most expected them to have. Some apparently also ate crustaceans like crabs, at least on the side. Researchers in Utah have been studying coprolites or fossilized dung and found remains of shelled animals in it. The results of their study were released in an earlier September issue of the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers Found Shelled Animals-Eating Herbivore Dinosaurs
It is difficult to discover concrete evidence of what a large herbivore dinosaur ate. Occasionally, paleontologists will find a specimen with intact gut contents, but coprolites are even rarer. Most such fossilized remains come from carnivorous dinosaurs since they are noted to contain minerals from the bones of their prey, minerals that also helped their preservation.
Karen Chin, a paleontologist from the University of Colorado Boulder, has been looking for coprolites from herbivorous dinosaurs for years. In 2007, she found coprolites containing rotten wood in Montana. Back in 2013, she found similar coprolites in southern Utah.
Along with fragments of wood, they contained structures that looked like parts of a claw or the leg of a crustacean. The paleontologist consulted a colleague, Rodney Feldmann, who said they looked as if they had come from a crab or crayfish.
The Utah fossils were dated to be around 75 million years old and had probably been produced by hadrosaurs. These had duck-like bills and could be about 20 feet long. Chin notes that modern birds that usually follow a vegetarian diet will sometimes eat protein sources like insects before laying eggs.
A large herbivore dinosaur couldn’t get the needed protein from insects. However, they could get these from eating the bugs and fungi in a rotten log as well as bigger shelled animals, for example, crabs.
Not all researchers believe that the hadrosaurs were deliberately eating crabs or the rotten wood that contained them. Jordan Mallon, a paleontologist with Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature, pointed out that hadrosaurs, given their size, would have been indiscriminate eaters. He believes it more likely that the hadrosaurs probably ate the occasional crayfish by accident.
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