Dining Out And Dining In

190 MYA

Modern American movies depict dinosaurs as dauntingly ferocious carnivores. In fact, most mega-massive dinos, regardless of their fearsome horns, spikes and claws, eat plants. They feed on tough cycad leaves, twigs, seeds and fruits of trees common in shrublands and woodlands. Fossilized dino dung (coprolite) shows that while some herbivores mingled tastes, others were fussy eaters.

Thousands of millions of cellulose-fermenting bacteria enable herbivorous dinos to digest the daily tonnage of cellulose (a process similar to that in 20th century cows, elephants and termites). In exchange for their food-processing services, the microbes receive a large tract of habitat.

Top: The paleontologists' menu features high-tech explorations into dino dietary preferences. Research on fossil bones and teeth adds considerable information about the dino taste in food. (Illustration by Jan Sovak)

Bottom: This spore-forming filamentous bacterium (Arthromitus) lives in the anoxic world within termites and cockroaches. Its chain of cells attaches to the gut wall. Other kinds of unattached gut microbes swim upstream to avoid being defecated. (Photograph by Lynn Margulis, with Brian Duval)

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