Dinosaur Food - Cycad Fossil
Dinosaur Food - Cycad Fossil
"Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are].
-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie Du Gout, ou, Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante (1826)
The palm-shaped fronds of the Cycad plant are an iconic piece of the dinosaur landscape for good reason. These plants were an incredibly important food source to the largest land animals to ever walk the planet. Thanks to an incredibly efficient gut biome, herbivorous sauropods, ceratopsians, and all manner of dinosaurs were able to digest and absorb precious nutrients from this group of plants.
This specimen is a piece of a Cycad plant fossil, commonly known as "Dinosaur Food." The material was recovered from the Lance Formation in Wyoming and is estimated to be about 67,000,000 years old.
📸 A fossilized piece of Cycad in hand
A Dinosaur's Favorite Snack
It takes a lot of energy to keep an dinosaur up and running. Luckily, they had a great food source — ancient cycad plants.
These seed-producing gymnosperms accounted for nearly 20% of the world's plant population in the Mesozoic, but they actually are far older than any dinosaur. They were an important food source for the herbivore giants long before they existed and are still around today, millions of years after their extinction.
This specimen is a fossilized piece of a Cycad plant from the Lance Formation in Wyoming. These ancient plants were an incredibly important food source to the dinosaurs and fueled their massive bodies. The material was dates back to the Late Cretaceous, over 67,000,000 years ago.
Each specimen comes in a glass-topped riker display box. The box measures 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included, which serves as the certificate of authenticity.
Fossil pieces measure around 1/2 inch in length come shipped in bubble wrap for protection. Shape, texture, and color can vary from specimen to specimen, as each is a unique piece of dinosaur history.
FIRST APPEARANCE: 300,000,000 years ago
MORE ABOUT CYCADS AND DINOSAUR DIETS
📸 Look at the texture on this larger piece of cycad fossil
How to feed a dinosaur
The human body is a biome unto itself: within our organs swirl millions of microbes, a sprawling ecosystem made up of bacteria, fungi, even viruses, all of them working to keep us healthy. This complex system of microbes is staggering on the scale of a simple human, now imagine the same principle on the scale of a dinosaur, a galaxy of microorganisms working to keep a 80-ton behemoth up and running.
The huge bodies of sauropods and herbivorous ornithischians (ceratopsids, ankylosaurids, etc) required a massive amount of energy. To meet these demands, these animals relied on a process of hindgut-fermentation. This digestive model involves rapid cropping and swallowing of plants, which in turn feeds symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This diverse gut flora then processes low-nutrient foods, turning them into products the animal would otherwise be unable to extract on its own.
📸 A fossilized cycad trunk
This complex system of microorganisms worked to digest the tough Cycad plant, an ancient gynosperm that kept the dinosaurs well-fed. The fleshy casing of Cycad seeds happen to be an ideal food source to fuel the hindgut-fermentation process.
They contain significant amounts of sugar and starch, while the natural toxins found in these seeds limit their consumption by animals without this digestive advantage.
📸 Modern Day Cycads in Thailand
A truly ancient plant
With an elongated, non-branching single trunk, cycads resemble today's palm trees. They have evergreen, pinnate leaves and typically either appear compound due to deeply cut leaf margins or have true compound leaves. The seed cones resemble that of conifers, another gymnosperm that has survived to the present day, albeit in much colder climates.
The palm-like figure of the Cycad is familiar to fans of classic, paleoart paintings. The extensive presence of these gymnosperms in the fossil record led many early researchers to think of Cycads simply as "dinosaur food," but the current thinking presents a more complex picture of this long-lived family of seed-bearing plants and their relationship with the largest creatures to ever walk the Earth.
Emerging during the early Permian period, Cycads developed into a diverse and widespread family during the Mesozoic Era, and 300 descendant species can be found in the world today. This particular specimen comes from a fossilized Cycad husk recovered on private land in Wyoming. Part of the Lance Formation, this find dates to the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 67,000,000 years ago.
The interaction of a sauropod’s digestive system alongside the Cycad plant is an apt example of just how intricate evolutionary forces can function. The dinosaur’s gut system and the bacteria found within adapted specifically to the tough Cycad plant, years of evolutionary forces producing the perfect digestive environment. Even at the scale of a microbe in a dinosaur’s stomach, evolution still works its magic.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Jones, David Lloyd. Cycads of the world: ancient plants in today's landscape. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.
T. E. Marler et al, Seed Ontogeny and Nonstructural Carbohydrates of Cycas micronesica Megagametophyte Tissue, HortScience (2016). DOI: 10.21273/HORTSCI10986-16
Nagalingum, N.S., et al. "Recent Synchronous Radiation of a Living Fossil" Science (11 Nov 2011): 796-799
Mackie, Roderick I. "Mutualistic Fermentative Digestion in the Gastrointestinal Tract: Diversity and Evolution1." Integrative and Comparative Biology 42.2 (2002): 319-326.
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