In broad strokes, figuring what a dinosaur ate is simple. Carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores are separated from each other on the basis of their teeth and other anatomical clues. But in trying to envision what these unusual animals were like in life - and understand their ecology - these traditional categories are far too broad and hardly satisfying. When we ask "What did this dinosaur eat?", "Plants" isn't much of an answer. Fortunately for us, sometimes dinosaur skeletons come with remnants of their last meals.

Isaberrysaura is a relatively new dinosaur on the block, named by paleontologist Leonardo Salgado and colleagues earlier this year. This 170 million year old creature was one of the ornithischians, close to the base of a dinosaur family that would come to include rock stars like Iguanodon and Edmontosaurus. But the most remarkable thing about this dinosaur, the researchers reported, was what was found inside its body cavity.

From the teeth alone, Isaberrysaura looked a good candidate for an herbivore. Its small, leaf-shaped teeth were better suited to cropping vegetation and cutting flesh. But the real confirmation of its diet comes from cycad seeds fossilized within the dinosaur's gut. 

The preservation of the seeds indicate that they were "gobbled down, and not chewed", Salgado and coauthors wrote. That makes sense given that dinosaurs like Isaberrysaura could not chew. But beyong mere association, this raises the prospect of ecological ties we would have otherwise been blind to. The sturdy cycad seeds likely passed through living Isaberrysaura digestive systems intact, deposited in various places as the dinosaur roamed. Isaberrysaura may have been a seed disperser, planting the Jurassic garden. 

The skull of Isaberrysara. Credit: Salgado et al. 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Isaberrysaura mollensis

Meaning: Isaberrysara honors Isabel Valdivia Berry, who found the dinosaur, and mollensis is a reference to the locality Los Molles.

Age: Jurassic, around 170 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Neuquén Province, Argentina.

What sort of organism?: An ornithischian dinosaur.

Size: Estimated at around 16 feet long.

How much of the organism’s is known?: A partial skeleton.


Salgado, L., Canudo, J., Garrido, A., Moren-Azanza, M., Martinex, L., Coria, R., Gasca, J. 2017. A new primitive neornithischian dinosaur from the Jurassic of Patagonia with gut contents. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/srep42778

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir
Pangu's Wing
The Dawn Megamouth
The Genga Lizard
The Micro Lion
The Mystery Titanosaur
The Echo Hunter
The Lo Hueco Titan
The Three-Branched Cicada
The Monster of Minden
The Pig-Footed Bandicoot
Hayden's Rattlesnake Demon
The Evasive Ostrich Seer
The Paradoxical Mega Shark
The Tiny Beardogs
The Armored Fish King
North America's Pangolin
The Invisible-Tusked Elephant
The Mud Dragon
The Spike-Toothed Salmon
The Dream Coast Crocodile
Buriol's Robber
Ozimek's Flyer
The Northern Naustoceratopsian
The High Arctic Flyer
The Tomatillo From the End of the World
The Short-Faced Hyena
The Mighty Traveler from Egg Mountain
Keilhau's Ichthyosaur
Mexico's Ancient Horned Face
Mauricio Fernández's Plesiosaur
New Zealand's Giant Dawn Penguin
The Orange Sea Lion
Mongolia's Ginkgo Cousin
The Geni River Frog