Fossilized dung from a dinosaur ancestor yields a brand new beetle species

In a fossilized chunk of historic reptilian poo, scientists have uncovered full specimens of a brand new beetle species. The discovering, described June 30 in Present Biology, means that fossilized dung may comprise extra particulars about previous life than beforehand thought.

Such historic feces have been “largely missed,” says evolutionary biologist Martin Qvarnström of Uppsala College in Sweden. “However they usually comprise very well-preserved fossils. They’re like hidden treasure chests.”

Fossilized dung, also called coprolite, can reveal insights concerning the diets of extinct creatures that physique fossils can’t. For instance, coprolites have been used to point out that some dinosaurs with plant-based diets additionally ate crustaceans (SN: 9/21/17).

Feces, particularly from carnivores, can readily type into coprolites as a result of the excrement usually incorporates the uncooked supplies and micro organism wanted for mineralization, says paleontologist Karen Chin of the College of Colorado Boulder, who was not concerned within the research. Laboratory experiments have proven that poo can turn into a coprolite in simply weeks, saving any delicate buildings inside because the dung is buried over time. “In case you didn’t get fast mineralization, the feces would get flattened, however most coprolites are three-dimensional,” she says.

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Regardless of this preservation energy, coprolites will be overshadowed by amber, a translucent tree resin, on the subject of fossils. A number of the most well-preserved, three-dimensional insect fossils are present in amber. However for the reason that resin turned frequent solely round 130 million years in the past, amber-preserved bugs older than which are uncommon.

Curious whether or not a lot older, fossilized poop may match the fossil high quality of amber specimens, Qvarnström and colleagues used a synchrotron, which generates highly effective X-rays, to peek inside a coprolite from Poland. The dung probably comes from an extinct dinosaur relative known as Silesaurus opolensis, which lived round 237 million to 227 million years in the past through the Triassic Interval.

This laptop rendering of newly analyzed fossilized dung exhibits beetle stays (tan), beetle wing covers (orange), fungal fibers (grey) and algae (inexperienced).M. Qvarnström et al/Present Biology 2021

The synchrotron scan revealed complete beetle fossils that rival the standard of comparable specimens in amber, together with fragments of the identical type of beetle. The entire beetles’ fossilized exoskeletons lacked the joints wanted for classification, however by piecing collectively the fragmented beetles, the researchers have been capable of reconstruct these options. Because of this, the staff recognized the bugs as a brand new household and species of beetle, named Triamyxa coprolithica.

Qvarnström hopes extra paleontologists will start to acknowledge how helpful coprolites will be. “This dinosaur ancestor was doing a little bit of the fieldwork for us,” he says. “We wouldn’t have been capable of finding these bugs in any other case.”

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