Nodosaur's 'exquisitely' preserved stomach contents reveal last meal

The armored dinosaur known as the Borealopelta markmitchelli — a nodosaur — was the subject of a study recently published in Royal Society Open Science. The researchers focused on the best-preserved nodosaur specimen, finding preserved stomach contents that reveal what this particular dinosaur ate. The stomach contents had around the same mass as a soccer ball and are described as "exquisitely-preserved."

According to the researchers, it is quite rare to get well-preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur fossil; they provide a better idea of what the dinosaur ate compared to preserved feces. When it comes to herbivorous dinosaurs, the researchers say there are less than a dozen discovered fossils that contain preserved food remains.

In those cases, though, the researchers explain that most of the preserved stomach contents still don't shed much light on what the dinosaurs ate. That changes with this new study, which provides what the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology calls 'the most detailed and conclusive direct evidence of diet' in these particular dinosaurs.

What did this particular nodosaur eat? The study found evidence of flowering plants, conifers and other gymnosperms, as well as clubmosses, gerns, liverwort, and burnt plant material likely caused by a wildfire. The study also found small stones in the dinosaur's stomach, which would have been intentionally consumed to help the body break down and digest the plant matter.

Breaking it all down, the study found that 88-percent of the stomach contents in this dinosaur were leaves, while another 7-percent were twigs and plant stems. Ferms seemed to be the main component of this creature's last meal and, among other things, the stems indicate the dinosaur died sometime during late spring or the middle of summer.

Most interesting of all, the study notes that this nodosaur appeared to be a picky eater and only went for a certain type of fern, one still found in many places around the world today.