Talk about a meal lasting a long time.
The armored dinosaur, known as Borealopelta markmitchell, had fossilized fern leaves in its stomach, as well as twigs and stems. Bits of charcoal on some of the fragments were also discovered, which showed the massive dinosaur ate in an area that may have been devastated by fires.
"The finding of the actual preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is extraordinarily rare, and this stomach recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum team is by far the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date," said University of Saskatchewan geologist Jim Basinger in a statement.
The researchers broke down the meal, noting it was comprised of "88 percent chewed leaf material and seven percent stems and twigs,” said Brandon University biologist and study co-author David Greenwood.
The mass of ferns was the size of a football and will shed new light on how the public views the ancient creatures' eating habits.
“When people see this stunning fossil and are told that we know what its last meal was because its stomach was so well preserved inside the skeleton, it will almost bring the beast back to life for them, providing a glimpse of how the animal actually carried out its daily activities, where it lived, and what its preferred food was,” Basinger added.
The study's lead author, Caleb Brown, also noted that the meal, death and burial of the dinosaur occurred in the "late spring to mid-summer" time frame, based on analysis of the stems and the ferns' spore-producing sporangia.
“This new study changes what we know about the diet of large herbivorous dinosaurs,” Brown added. “Our findings are also remarkable for what they can tell us about the animal’s interaction with its environment, details we don’t usually get just from the dinosaur skeleton.”
Borealopelta markmitchell's fossils were discovered in 2011 in a mine near Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. The dinosaur weighed 2,866 pounds (1,300 kilograms) and measured approximately 18 feet long, making it one of the larger armored herbivores of its time.
In addition to its large size, Borealopelta's back had thorny spikes and had two horns on its shoulders, which are believed to not only help protect it against predators, but attract mates as well, experts note.
The research has been published in the Royal Society of Open Science.
A study published in March suggested dinosaurs traveled significantly shorter distances and had drastically different migration behavior than initially believed.