Dinosaur Droppings

By | September 9, 2016

Perhaps the most surprising of all dinosaur fossils are coprolites—fossilized poop. Coprolites have been found all over the world, since they were first recognized for what they were in the 1830s. They can tell us a lot about dinosaurs, most importantly, what they ate.

Let’s use it!

In the nineteenth century, coprolites were actually mined in parts of England and turned into fertilizer. They were rich in a substance called phosphate that was needed to help crops grow to feed a quickly expanding population.

AN UNUSUAL COLLECTION

dinosaur-poop

Karen Chin is a world expert on fossilized dinosaur dung and has a huge collection of coprolites. She cuts slices to look at under a microscope and discover what is inside—whether it be small bones or leaves or seeds.

One of the biggest

tyrannosaurus-coprolite

Fragments of bone found in this Tyrannosaurus coprolite show that the predator swallowed bones as well as flesh

The huge coprolite below was found to contain chewed bits of bone from a cow-sized meat-eating dinosaur. It’s thought to have been a Tyrannosaurus’s dropping and measures 15 inches (38 cm) in length, although fragments found nearby suggest it was originally larger. Few dinosaur coprolites are preserved exactly as they were formed, and it’s tricky to link them to a particular dinosaur.

It’s a dropping!

mary-anning

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist

The fossil hunter Mary Anning (search the article about her) found stones in the belly region of the fossils she uncovered and described them as containing fossilized fish bones. Based on her finds, scientist William Buckland gave them the Greek name coprolites, meaning “dung stones.”

FRAGMENTS of bone found in this Tyrannosaurus coprolite show that the predator swallowed bones as well as flesh.

FACT FILE

dung-beetle

Dung beetle with dung ball

Karen Chin found small, fossilized burrows in the coprolites of plant-eating dinosaurs. With this evidence, she discovered that dung beetles were clearing dung in the age of the dinosaurs, just as they do today.

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