A sea lion-sized marine dinosaur dubbed Eric who swam in Australian waters hundred of millions of years ago was a pescetarian who enjoyed fish snacks, scientists say.
Eric, a plesiosaur named after a Monty Python song, was found to contain 17 previously undescribed fish vertebrae, confirming the Jurassic beasts were mainly pescetarian.
Australian National University scientists believe their study is the first of its kind in Australia to use X-rays to see inside the gut contents of a fossilised dinosaur.
“Previous studies examined the exterior surface of Eric’s opalised skeleton to find clues,” lead researcher Joshua White said.
“But this approach can be difficult and limiting as fossilised stomach contents are rare to find and there can be more hidden beneath the surface that would be near impossible for palaeontologists to see without destroying the fossil.”
The findings improve our understanding of how extinct organisms evolved and help predict how yet-to-be extinct marine life will adapt to climate change.
“As environments change, so too does a marine reptile’s diet and understanding these changes can be used to help predict how animals of today will respond to current and emerging climate challenges,” Mr White said.
He hopes the research will help scientists anticipate how diets of modern animals such as dolphins or whales might change in the future.
Eric was discovered in a Coober Pedy opal mine in 1987 and is one of the most complete opalised vertebrae skeletons in Australia.
Approximately 93 per cent of his fossil is intact, which was pretty much unheard of, Mr White said.
A mid-tier predator, plesiosaurs would likely have been preyed upon by larger apex predators such as prehistoric sharks.
Eric is on display at the Australian Museum in Sydney.
Photo: Scientists used X-rays to see inside the gut contents of Eric’s fossilised remains. (PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO)
By Jacob Shteyman
Australian Associated Press
Categories: GENERAL News
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