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Finding bugs in dino doo-doo

By , 15 July 2021

Illustration of a close up dinosaur face.

Silesaurus poo was full of insects!
Image: Magorzata Czaja

You might have seen pictures of insects trapped in amber. Millions of years ago, that amber was sticky, goopy, tree resin. But resin isn’t the only sticky stuff that can preserve ancient insects. Scientists have found insects preserved in a coprolite – fossilised poo!

It’s easy to see through amber to look at an insect inside. That’s not the case with fossilised poo. Scientists instead took a 3D X-ray of the coprolite. They were amazed to find a whole bunch of tiny beetles, each about 1.5 millimetres long. Some of the beetles were well preserved, with legs, elytra (wing cases) and even antennae!

So how did the beetles get in the poo? Since many of these insects are incomplete or in parts, it’s likely the beetles were eaten. As the beetles were tiny, they didn’t get chewed. And thanks to their tough bodies, they could arrive out the other end, mostly whole. Kind of like finding corn kernels in your poo!

The coprolite also includes strange web shapes that might have been fungi or algae. Plus there are other lumps that could have been parts of other insects.

The team thinks that the poo belongs to a dinosauriform called Silesaurus. This ancient dinosaur-like creature was roughly the size of a medium dog, and lived in the Triassic period at the beginning of the age of dinosaurs.

Scientists are excited about this discovery, because most amber comes from the Cretaceous period at the end of the age of dinosaurs. There could be 100 million years of insect history, waiting to be discovered in fossil poo!

Image of a fossilised insect

This tiny beetle was preserved in dino poo
Image: Qvarnstrom et al

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