Paleoecological utility of feeding traces at Egg Mountain, a rich terrestrial vertebrate locality of the upper Cretaceous Two Medicine Formation, Montana, U.S.A.
Freimuth, William James
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The Egg Mountain locality is a rich terrestrial vertebrate site from the Upper Cretaceous Two Medicine Formation of Montana. Numerous skeletal remains and nesting and dwelling traces of insects and other invertebrates, mammals, lizards, and carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs are known from the locality. Despite the diversity of different taxa and behaviors represented, little is known about their respective ecologies. To address this, I investigate a series of feeding traces, including regurgitalites (fossil gastric pellets) and invertebrate fecal pellets, and assess their potential trace-makers and paleoecological and paleoenvironmental implications for the site. Two amalgams of the metatherian Alphadon halleyi are identified as regurgitalites based on the presence of multiple individuals in a confined area, an abundance of paired and indigestible tooth-bearing cranial elements, extensive breakage and disarticulation, and periosteal corrosion patterns attributable to digestion. These are the first mammal-bearing regurgitalites from the Mesozoic. A third amalgam is composed of the multituberculate Filikomys primaevus and is represented by crushed skulls and abundant articulated postcrania, suggestive of a non-predatory origin. The available evidence favors Troodon formosus as the regurgitalite producer. The similar taphonomic features of these regurgitalites and the prey in regurgitates of diurnal raptors suggest Troodon may have manipulated prey during feeding. The ability to egest pellets in a large-bodied, non-volant troodontid supports previous hypotheses that avian-style pellet egestion may have evolved to accommodate increased physiological processes leading to modern birds. A series of unusual peloidal structures are interpreted as invertebrate fecal pellets and resemble the pellet-filled burrow trace Edaphichnium isp. Three morphotypes are identified, including linearly-arranged pellets, pellets in condensed masses, and pellets in dispersed masses. Potential trace-makers include coleopterans, millipedes, and possibly earthworms. The abundance of Edaphichnium isp. and other traces at specific horizons throughout the locality suggest buildup of organic material in the substrate, likely induced by depositional hiatuses. Some Edaphichnium isp. are associated with Maiasaura egg clutches, suggesting invertebrate communities scavenged the decaying nest materials. Taken together, these studies provide ecological and depositional context to the abundance of dinosaur nesting and the diversity of taxa and behaviors represented at the Egg Mountain locality.