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Fun Facts About Fossilized Poop or Coprolite

coprolite

Who knew talking about poop could be so fascinating! Well, when it comes to the excrement of our favorite prehistoric creatures, it turns out there is a lot to learn.

The word Coprolite derives from the Greek term “Kopros Lithos,” which specifically translates to “dung stone.” A coprolite is, quite literally, fossilized poop. Coprolites can technically come from any animal, but the most fascinating and valued coprolites are those that are millions of years old, particularly from dinosaurs and other reptiles from prehistory. The study of these coprolites have resulted in many interesting facts, so here are some fun facts that Paleoscatologists have discovered about ancient fossilized poop! 

The Discovery of Coprolite

Coprolites were first discovered by the famous fossil hunter Mary Anning. Mary was not a scientist. She was the daughter of Richard and Mary Anning in Lyme Regis on the coast of Southern England. Though she was poor and uneducated scientists and museum curators came to her to buy fossils. Mary found ichthyosaurs complete with their intestines and its contents, spiral shaped coprolites. She noticed that these bezoar stones, as they were called at the time, had fish scales and bones  in them. William Buckland, a noted geologist, learned of Mary’s observations and in 1829 put forth a scientific description and gave the name coprolites meaning dung stones in greek.  coprolite

Coprolites Are Trace Fossils

What Coprolites Are Made Of

Coprolites start out as organic waste matter that have been mineralized. Over time all of the original material is replaced by minerals such as silicates or calcium carbonates. These minerals take the exact shape of the original specimen. The process of mineralization is called petrification.

Insects Are Not New

By studying dinosaur poop, Paleoscatologists discovered certain insects that existed millions of years ago. The most interesting thing about this is that some insects, specifically the dung beetle and snails, have been around for way longer than we originally had thought. Think about it — there is a species of insect that has managed to stay with us from millions of years ago! This sparks curiosity in that, before this discovery, we did not think that a species could survive this long. 

Environment According to Coprolite

coprolite

Coprolites are evidence that helps explain what the environment was like millions and millions of years ago. From these fossils, we know that pine trees, corn, tomatoes, and many seeds that we take for granted today have actually been around for a really long time. They also help to deduce what weather patterns were like and how much they have changed. It may even help to predict what type of global climate change we may have to prepare for in the future! 

The Enormity of Dinosaurs

There was a dinosaur that used to roam around parts of South America about 94 million to 97 million years ago. This humongous creature, the Argentinosaurus, weighed about 74 metric tons per animal. For perspective, that is equivalent to 13 elephants. How did they discover this? Simply by the size of the coprolites that were found. One Argentinosaurus fossilized poop was the size of seven 2 liter soda bottles! Imagine seven big bottles of Pepsi stacked on top of each other. 

Flying Reptiles

While the concept of flying dragons, the fantasy creature that many cartoons have used for fun, may not have existed in exactly that way, Paleoscatologists were able to discover that there were ancient reptiles that had wings, and that yes they did fly.  There were many species of flying reptiles called pterosaurs. The largest of them was Quetzalcoatlus with a wingspan of about 34 feet!  But, there were dinosaurs that were hunting these flying creatures too. One of those dinosaurs was the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex! Wing membranes found within the coprolites of a T-Rex helped scientists to know about these winged creatures. The first complete pterosaur fossils were found in what we know today as Germany!  

Closing Thoughts About Fossilized Dinosaur Poop

Although lesser thought of by many aspiring collectors, scientists and archeologists have been studying dinosaur poop for decades. Fossilized excrement can reveal a plethora of information about these prehistoric monsters of air, land and water, peeling back the mysteries of what it was like for them to live and roam in a time we can only imagine.

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