Concept: Late Cretaceous
Large plant-eating dinosaurs are usually presumed to have been strictly herbivorous, because their derived teeth and jaws were capable of processing fibrous plant foods. This inferred feeding behavior offers a generalized view of dinosaur food habits, but rare direct fossil evidence of diet provides more nuanced insights into feeding behavior. Here we describe fossilized feces (coprolites) that demonstrate recurring consumption of crustaceans and rotted wood by large Late Cretaceous dinosaurs. These multi-liter coprolites from the Kaiparowits Formation are primarily composed of comminuted conifer wood tissues that were fungally degraded before ingestion. Thick fragments of laminar crustacean cuticle are scattered within the coprolite contents and suggest that the dinosaurian defecators consumed sizeable crustaceans that sheltered in rotting logs. The diet of decayed wood and crustaceans offered a substantial supply of plant polysaccharides, with added dividends of animal protein and calcium. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the fossilized fecal residues depict year-round feeding habits. It is more reasonable to infer that these coprolites reflected seasonal dietary shifts-possibly related to the dinosaurs' oviparous breeding activities. This surprising fossil evidence challenges conventional notions of herbivorous dinosaur diets and reveals a degree of dietary flexibility that is consistent with that of extant herbivorous birds.
Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and the largest animals to ever take wing. The pterosaurs persisted for over 150 million years before disappearing at the end of the Cretaceous, but the patterns of and processes driving their extinction remain unclear. Only a single family, Azhdarchidae, is definitively known from the late Maastrichtian, suggesting a gradual decline in diversity in the Late Cretaceous, with the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction eliminating a few late-surviving species. However, this apparent pattern may simply reflect poor sampling of fossils. Here, we describe a diverse pterosaur assemblage from the late Maastrichtian of Morocco that includes not only Azhdarchidae but the youngest known Pteranodontidae and Nyctosauridae. With 3 families and at least 7 species present, the assemblage represents the most diverse known Late Cretaceous pterosaur assemblage and dramatically increases the diversity of Maastrichtian pterosaurs. At least 3 families-Pteranodontidae, Nyctosauridae, and Azhdarchidae-persisted into the late Maastrichtian. Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs show increased niche occupation relative to earlier, Santonian-Campanian faunas and successfully outcompeted birds at large sizes. These patterns suggest an abrupt mass extinction of pterosaurs at the K-Pg boundary.
Late Cretaceous terrestrial strata of the Neuquén Basin, northern Patagonia, Argentina have yielded a rich fauna of dinosaurs and other vertebrates. The diversity of saurischian dinosaurs is particularly high, especially in the late Cenomanian-early Turonian Huincul Formation, which has yielded specimens of rebacchisaurid and titanosaurian sauropods, and abelisaurid and carcharodontosaurid theropods. Continued sampling is adding to the known vertebrate diversity of this unit.
We describe a new taxon of medium-sized (wing span ca. 3 m) azhdarchid pterosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Transylvanian Basin (Sebeş Formation) of Romania. This specimen is the most complete European azhdarchid yet reported, comprising a partially articulated series of vertebrae and associated forelimb bones. The new taxon is most similar to the Central Asian Azhdarcho lancicollis Nessov but possesses a suite of autapomorphies in its vertebrae that include the relative proportions of cervicals three and four and the presence of elongated prezygapophyseal pedicles. The new taxon is interesting in that it lived contemporaneously with gigantic forms, comparable in size to the famous Romanian Hatzegopteryx thambema. The presence of two distinct azhdarchid size classes in a continental depositional environment further strengthens suggestions that these pterosaurs were strongly linked to terrestrial floodplain and wooded environments. To support this discussion, we outline the geological context and taphonomy of our new specimen and place it in context with other known records for this widespread and important Late Cretaceous pterosaurian lineage.
Dakotaraptor steini is a recently described dromaeosaurid dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. Included within the D. steini hypodigm are three elements originally identified as furculae, one of which was made part of the holotype specimen. We show that the elements described as D. steini ‘furculae’ are not theropod dinosaur furculae, but are rather trionychid turtle entoplastra referable to cf. Axestemys splendida. The hypodigm of D. steini should be adjusted accordingly.
A skeleton discovered in the Upper Cretaceous Sierra Barrosa Formation (Turonian-Coniacian) of Neuquén Province, Argentina represents a new species of theropod dinosaur related to the long snouted, highly pneumatized Megaraptoridae. The holotype specimen of Murusraptor barrosaensis n.gen et n.sp. (MCF-PVPH-411) includes much of the skull, axial skeleton, pelvis and tibia. Murusraptor is unique in having several diagnostic features that include anterodorsal process of lacrimal longer than height of preorbital process, and a thick, shelf-like thickening on the lateral surface of surangular ventral to the groove between the anterior surangular foramen and the insert for the uppermost intramandibular process of the dentary. Other characteristic features of Murusraptor barrosaensis n.gen. et n. sp.include a large mandibular fenestra, distal ends of caudal neural spines laterally thickened into lateral knob-like processes, short ischia distally flattened and slightly expanded dorsoventrally. Murusraptor belongs to a Patagonian radiation of megaraptorids together with Aerosteon, Megaraptor and Orkoraptor. In spite being immature, it is a larger but more gracile animal than existing specimens of Megaraptor, and is comparable in size with Aerosteon and Orkoraptor. The controversial phylogeny of the Megaraptoridae as members of the Allosauroidea or a clade of Coelurosauria is considered analyzing two alternative data sets.
The Velaux-La Bastide Neuve fossil-bearing site (Bouches-du-Rhône, France) has yielded a diverse vertebrate assemblage dominated by dinosaurs, including the titanosaur Atsinganosaurus velauciensis. We here provide a complete inventory of vertebrate fossils collected during two large-scale field campaigns. Numerous crocodilian teeth occur together with complete skulls. Pterosaur, hybodont shark and fish elements are also represented but uncommon. Magnetostratigraphic analyses associated with biostratigraphic data from dinosaur eggshell and charophytes suggest a Late Campanian age for the locality. Lithologic and taphonomic studies, associated with microfacies and palynofacies analyses, indicate a fluvial setting of moderate energy with broad floodplain. Palynomorphs are quite rare; only three taxa of pollen grains occur: a bisaccate taxon, a second form probably belonging to the Normapolles complex, and another tricolporate taxon. Despite the good state of preservation, these taxa are generally difficult to identify, since they are scarce and have a very minute size. Most of the vertebrate remains are well preserved and suggest transport of the carcasses over short distances before accumulation in channel and overbank facies, together with reworked Aptian grains of glauconite, followed by a rapid burial. The bones accumulated in three thin layers that differ by their depositional modes and their taphonomic histories. Numerous calcareous and iron oxides-rich paleosols developed on the floodplain, suggesting an alternating dry and humid climate in the region during the Late Campanian.
Rhabdodontidae is a successful clade of ornithopod dinosaurs, characteristic of Late Cretaceous continental faunas in Europe. A new rhabdodontid from the late Campanian, of southern France, Matheronodon provincialis gen. et sp. nov., is characterized by the extreme enlargement of both its maxillary and dentary teeth, correlated to a drastic reduction in the number of maxillary teeth (4 per generation in MMS/VBN-02-102). The interalveolar septa on the maxilla are alternately present or resorbed ventrally so as to be able to lodge such enlarged teeth. The rhabdodontid dentition and masticatory apparatus were adapted for producing a strict and powerful shearing action, resembling a pair of scissors. With their relatively simple dentition, contrasting with the sophisticated dental batteries in contemporary hadrosaurids, Matheronodon and other rhabdodontids are tentatively interpreted as specialized consumers of tough plant parts rich in sclerenchyma fibers, such as Sabalites and Pandanites.
Ceratopsids (“horned dinosaurs”) are known from western North America and Asia, a distribution reflecting an inferred subaerial link between the two landmasses during the Late Cretaceous. However, this clade was previously unknown from eastern North America, presumably due to limited outcrop of the appropriate age and depositional environment as well as the separation of eastern and western North America by the Western Interior Seaway during much of the Late Cretaceous. A dentary tooth from the Owl Creek Formation (late Maastrichtian) of Union County, Mississippi, represents the first reported occurrence of Ceratopsidae from eastern North America. This tooth shows a combination of features typical of Ceratopsidae, including a double root and a prominent, blade-like carina. Based on the age of the fossil, we hypothesize that it is consistent with a dispersal of ceratopsids into eastern North America during the very latest Cretaceous, presumably after the two halves of North America were reunited following the retreat of the Western Interior Seaway.
The Ganzhou area of Jiangxi Province, southern China is becoming one of the most productive oviraptorosaurian localities in the world. A new oviraptorid dinosaur was unearthed from the uppermost Upper Cretaceous Nanxiong Formation of Ganzhou area. It is characterized by an anterodorsally sloping occiput and quadrate (a feature shared with Citipati), a circular supratemporal fenestra that is much smaller than the lower temporal fenestra, and a dentary in which the dorsal margin above the external mandibular fenestra is strongly concave ventrally. The position of the anteroventral corner of the external naris in relation to the posterodorsal corner of the antorbital fenestra provides new insight into the craniofacial evolution of oviraptorosaurid dinosaurs. A phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon as closely related to the Mongolian Citipati. Six oviraptorid dinosaurs from the Nanxiong Formation (Ganzhou and Nanxiong) are distributed within three clades of the family. Each of the three clades from the Nanxiong Formation has close relatives in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, and in both places each clade may have had a specific diet or occupied a different ecological niche. Oviraptorid dinosaurs were geographically widespread across Asia in the latest Cretaceous and were an important component of terrestrial ecosystems during this time.