Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Evolution Caught in the Act

Whole species of carnivorous dinosaurs gradually gave up meat and evolved into vegetarians. Paleontologists have found evidence of this unusual dietary change in the skeleton of a previously unknown species that was halfway through the transition.

The Falcarius utahensis, a distant relative of the fierce Velociraptor, has the beginnings of features associated with eating plants. Its teeth are not knifelike, serrated teeth of the typical predator, but smaller and adapted for shredding greenery. It also has an expanded gut suitable for digesting fermenting plants; thicker legs than the runners' legs needed for by predators; and a longer neck to reach for leaves in tall trees.

Scientists aren't sure what prompted Falcarius utahensis to go vegetarian, but they note that the change coincided with the arrival of a profusion of flowering plants. The new fossils are an amazing documentation of a major dietary shift.

Falcarius utahensis represents evolution caught in the act.

Pharyngula has more...

Our favorite dinosaur is still our own T-Rex who eats the unevolved fish.