Dinosaur Feeding Habits how were the Diets of Dinosaurs Determined

Dinosaurs, those great big huge reptilian creatures (though some were small, everyone know the giant ones) that lived long ago constantly eating. They had to consume vast quantities to maintain that mas, but vast quantities of what? What did dinosaurs eat?

Based upon fossil evidence, and there is no other, they ate as varied a diet as birds and animals eat today. This includes carnivores (meat eaters), herbivores ( plant consumers), omnivores (both meat and plants) and then those that ate fish, eggs and insects! Dinosaurs were a class or type of animal, not something specific. A better question would be how do scientists determine what dinosaurs ate, and that is a bit more complex of a question!

One way of determining what an unknown animal ate is by it’s teeth and bone structures. A dinosaur with very sharp, pointed teeth and grooves was most likely carnivorous, those type of teeth are best for ripping up flesh. Was the carnivorous animal a predator or a scavenger? That is more difficult to tell, but can be estimated by the skull shape and leg structure.

Binocular vision, with the eyes looking forward generally indicates a predator. This type of eyesight was best for judging distances and being able to estimate speed, essential for a carnivorous animal that chases its prey. Large sinus cavities are indicative of a scavenger, they were usually looking for dead carcasses that may be hidden in the underbrush, so relied upon smell as much as sight. The leg bones of a predator are usually longer and stronger than those of a scavenger because longer legs were needed for running down food, whereas a scavenger would hide and creep around. Tyrannosaurus Rex had grooved teeth with binocular vision, but short forelegs; scavenger or predator, or maybe both! Because scavengers sometimes had to outrun predators and some animals hunt by stealth rather than speed, so one should remember that these are general guidelines, not rules.

But then there are blunt teeth and skulls with eyes to the sides, what did those dinosaurs eat? Most likely plants. Look at the teeth and skulls of goats, sheep, cows and horses, they are all grazers with side vision to watch for those predators. There were also really thick molars, possibly used for chewing nuts or crushing pine cones, and yes the dinosaurs ate nuts and pine cones! There are also specialized teeth for eating fish and insects. Teeth help tell what the dinosaurs ate!

Sometimes specific plants such as the Sercropia Tree or Bristle Cone Pines were believed to be consumed by specific dinosaurs, how do scientists know? This is based upon the debris often found inside skeleton of dinosaurs and fossilized dinosaur “manure”, known as coprolite’s. When the animal got buried by a mud slide it became completely encased at one time and the products in the intestines was saved in place, it became fossilized along with the dinosaur. Those contents can be analyzed using a microscope and compared to known plants, telling what the dinosaur had likely been eating.

The main dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, and while scientists study them closely, for the most part one can only guess what they actually ate. It is probably a good bet that it wasn’t a burger with fries!