Compsognathus longipes

A lizard previously unknown to science fills a predator’s belly. Credit: Danny S./CC BY-SA 4.0

Palaeontology

Dinosaur’s last meal is a first for science

An undigested dinner turns out to be a new species.

A new species of gecko-like creature has been identified in an unusual place: inside the fossil of a carnivorous dinosaur.

The dinosaur was a small, swift predator called Compsognathus longipes that was first described in the nineteenth century from a skeleton found in Germany. The German fossil, which dates to roughly 150 million years ago, has long been known to contain a small lizard in its gut. But in a paper published posthumously, Jack Conrad of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City noted that the lizard’s skull anatomy does not match that of the species to which it was thought to belong.

Analysis showed that the long-tailed lizard in the dinosaur’s belly is a new species. Conrad christened it Schoenesmahl dyspepsia, which roughly translates to ‘beautiful meal that is difficult to digest’. The condition of the lizard’s fossil suggests that the dinosaur ripped apart its prey before swallowing it.