Researchers find Evidence of Scavenging Behavior in a Velociraptor

6 04 2010
Velociraptor Teeth - Photo by David Hone

Velociraptor teeth, matching the bite marks on the Protoceratops, were found at the site.

An international team of researchers, working in upper Cretaceous deposits at Bayan Mandahu, in Inner Mongolia, China, has found evidence of scavenging behavior in Velociraptor.  The evidence, consisting of bite marks on the jaw of a Protoceratops along with Velociraptor teeth, was found by Dr. David Hone of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

The research, published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, provides insight into the behavior of animals that lived more than 65 million years ago, near the end of the age of dinosaurs.  It also provides evidence in a long-running debate over whether many theropod dinosaurs practiced scavenging along with their predatory ways.

“The marks were on and around bits of the jaw,” Dr Hone said in a recent interview with the BBC.  “Protoceratops probably weighed many times what a Velociraptor did, with lots of muscle to eat. Why scrape away at the jaws, where there’s obviously not much muscle, so heavily that you scratch the bone and lose teeth unless there was not much else there. In short, this looks like scavenging as the animal would be feeding on the haunches and guts first, not the cheeks.”

Scientists have long debated the relative extent to which predatory dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex engaged in scavenging versus predatory behavior.  When a fossil was found (also in Inner Mongolia) a few years ago, showing a Velociraptor engaged in what appeared to be a fight with a Protoceratops in which they both died, it became clear that Velociraptor definitely engaged in actively hunting and killing at least some of the time.  With the addition of this new evidence, it also becomes clear that Velociraptor also engaged in scavenging, something that some paleontologists had disputed.

“Even the most dedicated predator won’t turn down a free meal if they chance across a dead animal with a few bits of meat still attached, and this looks like the case here,” Hone told the BBC.

Of course, this does nothing to settle the debate about relative frequencies of predatory versus scavenging behaviors.  While most scientists believe that Velociraptor was an active predator that only engaged in scavenging when the opportunity arose, many scientists are not as sure about T. rex.  Some see the “king of tyrants” as too big and slow to be anything but primarily a scavenger, while others point to its heavily-muscled hind quarters and see a powerful runner, capable of catching the large herbivores it likely fed on.

“Animals like Velociraptor were probably feeding on animals like Protoceratops regularly, probably including both predation and scavenging,” Hone said in the BBC interview.  “That is in line with the behaviour of many modern predators, as almost all living carnivores such as lions and jackals do both.  It’s a question of degree.  Lions mostly predate, jackals mostly scavenge.”

For the BBC article, please click the following URL:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8596000/8596568.stm.

For the Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology journal homepage, please click the following URL:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=PublicationURL&_cdi=5821&_pubType=J&_auth=y&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=9182362&md5=74e4ce09feb43767eb457e97d065d91e&jchunk=289#289.

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