New Dinosaur Was Nut-Cracking "Parrot"

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
June 17, 2009

A new dinosaur with nut-cracking jaws found in the Gobi desert ate like a bird—a parrot, to be exact.

Video: 360-Degree View of Psittacosaurus Gobiensis Skull

The 3-foot-long (0.9-meter-long) Cretaceous creature had a boxlike skull and beaklike jaw that resemble those of modern parrots, which have beaks that can crack open nuts, a new study found.

The 110-million-year-old skull—as well as "a huge pile" of 50 stomach stones found with the fossil—suggests that the beast was chewing hard, fibrous nuts and seeds, the researchers say. Stomach stones are rocks ingested by some animals to grind food in their digestive systems.

If confirmed, Psittacosaurus gobiensis ("parrot reptile of the Gobi") and its close cousins would be the world's first known nut-eating dinosaur.

Knowing what type of food a dinosaur ate is extremely rare, said study leader Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.

"Basically this solves a bit of a riddle for this dinosaur," said Sereno, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

"We've now come closer to why it looks like it does."

Shearing Jaws

The skull, found in the Gobi desert in Mongolia in 2001, once had giant jaw muscles attached to broad sheets of extremely rigid cheekbone, giving the animal a powerful bite, said Sereno, whose study on P. gobiensis appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Like a parrot, the dinosaur was able to move its jaws both vertically and horizontally, allowing it to "shear" tough plants.

(Related: "New Birdlike Dinosaur Found in Argentina.")

Hans-Dieter Sues, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., said scientists have wondered why such dinosaurs and their relatives, called psittacosaurs, had both robust jaws and so many stomach stones.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.