Grass-Eating Dinosaurs Discovered
Fossil grass phytolith extracted from dinosaur coprolites
(fossilized dung) from Late Cretaceous Intertrappean beds of India.
The phytolith shows that dinosaurs ate grass and that grasses had
diversified a lot earlier than previously thought.
[Image © Science]
The first evidence for grass-eating dinosaurs has been discovered, according
to a new study. Researchers have recovered tiny bits of silica —
produced by grass — from the fossilized dung of sauropod dinosaurs
that lived in present-day India during the Late Cretaceous, about 65 million
years ago. This discovery has important implications for understanding
the evolution of grasses, dinosaur ecology and early plant-herbivore interactions,
the authors say in the 18 November 2005 issue of the journal Science.
The distinctive silica structures that the scientists discovered are called
phytoliths. They are known to form in the cells and tissues of grass and
other plants. The varied grass-specific phytoliths found in the fossilized
dinosaur dung suggest considerably more diversification within the grass
family by the Late Cretaceous than is generally believed. Grasses, however,
do not seem to be the primary food of sauropod dinosaurs, based on the
amount of grass phytoliths found in the fossilized dung. Certain early
mammals with enigmatic teeth that appear suited for handling abrasive
materials may have also eaten grass, according to the authors.
17 November 2005