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A new species of dinosaur has been discovered: it filtered its food from the water like a duck

Paleontologists discovered a dinosaur with a beak-like snout, a body reminiscent of an ostrich with a long tail, and from the analysis of its exceptionally well-preserved remains, it became clear that it ate like a duck, that is: it filtered its food from the water like modern ducks do.

By Tamara Traubman, the "Eretz"

Illustration: Field Museum - the ornithomimid dinosaur

Paleontologists discovered a dinosaur with a beak-like snout, a body reminiscent of an ostrich with a long tail, and from the analysis of its exceptionally well-preserved remains, it became clear that it ate like a duck, that is: it filtered its food from the water like modern ducks do.

The species, known as an ornithomimid, was first discovered more than ten years ago. But only now did researchers manage to find an individual of the same species whose skull preserved not only the bones, but also soft tissues. The researchers say that the tissue analysis revealed a comb-shaped structure, something that had never been discovered in dinosaurs before.

According to the researchers, the structure is very similar to the filter structure present in the beak of ducks. The dinosaur was discovered in excavations made last summer in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. The findings of the research are described in a report published yesterday in the scientific journal Nature. In the report another dinosaur is also described, which was discovered five years ago in the Canadian Rockies. Remains of a beak were found in both skulls.

According to the researchers, the beak of these dinosaurs seems to have been made of keratin, the material from which bird beaks and human hair and nails are made. Keratin-like material is rarely preserved in fossils.

The findings suggest that ornithomimids fed on small invertebrates, such as small shrimps, and other food particles that they filtered from water sources and river sediments. "This behavior has not been discovered in any other dinosaur," said one of the researchers, Dr. Peter Makowicki, in a statement published yesterday by the Field Museum in Chicago, where he works.

Ornithomimids lived 75 million years ago. The average height of an adult ornithomimid reached about two meters, and its length was about 4.5 meters. Thanks to its long legs, it was among the fastest moving dinosaurs. Ornithomimids belong to a group of dinosaurs called theropods, which includes carnivorous dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor. The earlier ornithomimids had teeth, as did the other dinosaur species belonging to this group. But later in evolution the ornithomimids lost their teeth and developed a toothless beak.

"We've always been used to thinking of the sauropods as animals with large teeth adapted to hunting," said Dr. Makowicki, "but the beaked ornithomimids adapted in a very different way, and may have lived on small invertebrates." According to him, "the birds of our time are theropods that have adapted to a wide variety of habitats and foods." Most paleontologists believe that certain theropods are the direct ancestors of birds, but some scientists - and especially ornithologists - still do not accept this explanation.

"We cannot state unequivocally that they ate in the same way as ducks," said the head of the research team, Dr. Mark Norrell of the Museum of Nature in New York. "But it is unlikely that these delicate structures were originally used to eat large animals."

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