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Dinosaur-eating mammal discovered in China

14 January 2005

A new species of mammal, large enough to feed on young dinosaurs, has been discovered in northern China.

Artist's impression of Repenomamus © Chinese Academy of Sciences

The mammal fossil is 130 million years old and lived during the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

‘If this is not the largest Mesozoic mammal, it must be approaching it,’ says Jerry Hooker dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum.

Badger-like mammal

Such a large mammal in the Mesozoic Era is surprising since most mammals during this time were the size of today's mice and rats.

The new species is called Repenomamus giganticus (Repenomamus meaning ‘reptile mammals’) and was discovered in the famous Liaoning region of China.

Yaoming Hu of the American Museum of Natural History, who led the fossil examination, said the creature was more than a metre long, about the size of a large dog. However, it would have more closely resembled a badger.

Baby dinosaur

Scientists found bones of a baby Psittacosaurus , just a few centimetres long, in the area where the Repenomamus's stomach would have been.

Fossil skeleton of Repenomamus giganticus © Nature/Chinese Academy of Sciences

‘One way to confirm that the Psittacosaurus was eaten would be to look for corrosion on its bones from digestive acids,’ Hooker suggests.

‘Mammalian carnivores today have very strong digestive juices; hyenas' stomach acid, for example, can make holes in bones and teeth.’

This discovery is reported in the journal Nature .