Fossilized dinosaur poop reveals 230-million-year-old treasure
CNN — New research has found that fossilized feces isn’t just full of crap. One specimen contained a hidden treasure: a 230-million-year-old, previously undiscovered beetle species.
The beetles, named Triamyxa coprolithica, were found using a scanning method powered by strong X-ray beams, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.
The beetle’s scientific name refers to the Triassic period, which lasted from roughly 252 million to 201 million years ago, scientists said.
“I was really amazed to see how well preserved the beetles were, when you modeled them up on the screen, it was like they were looking right at you,” said the study’s first author Martin Qvarnström, a paleontologist and postdoctoral fellow at Uppsala University, Sweden, in a statement.
Based on the size, shape, and other anatomical features of fossilized droppings analyzed in prior research, the scientists concluded the feces were excreted by Silesaurus opolensis, a small dinosaur just over 6 feet long that weighed around 33 pounds and lived in Poland around 230 million years ago during the Triassic age.
“Silesaurus possessed a beak at the tip of its jaws that could have been used to root in the litter and perhaps peck insects off the ground, somewhat like modern birds,” according to a news release.
Researchers suggested that fossilized feces could be an alternative to another material known for producing the most well-preserved insect fossils: amber, the hard, yellowish yet translucent fossilized resin produced by extinct trees of the Tertiary period, which lasted from roughly 66 million to 2.6 million years ago.
Since the oldest fossils from amber are about 140 million years old, the much older fossilized feces samples could help researchers venture further into the unexplored past, according to a news release.
“We didn’t know how insects looked in the Triassic period and now we have the chance,” said study co-author Martin Fiká?ek, an entomologist at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, in a statement.
Researchers who find insects in fossilized feces can scan them in the same ways scientists scan amber insects, Fiká?ek added, which would reveal minute details.
The study team’s ultimate research goal, Qvarnström said, is to use the fossilized feces data “to reconstruct ancient food webs and see how they changed across time.”
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