Does fossilised dinosaur poo exist?
Dino dung can provide direct evidence about what these prehistoric reptiles ate.
Dinosaurs, like all animals, would have needed to expel waste. Sometimes pieces of dinosaur faeces turned into fossils, which we can find today. These are called coprolites. Some palaeontologists specialise in studying coprolites and use them to understand what food dinosaurs ate, and how they fit into larger food chains.
The most famous dinosaur coprolite is an enormous specimen found in Late Cretaceous rocks in Canada. At over 30cm long and more than two litres in volume, this huge piece of scat could only have been produced by the largest predator in the ecosystem: Tyrannosaurus rex.
Although a T. rex poo in itself is interesting (or perhaps disgusting, depending on your sensibilities), this fossil is also important. It’s full of chunks of bone, which tell us that T. rex could bite so hard that it crushed the bones of its prey – a highly unusual way of eating with no obvious modern equivalent.
Other dinosaur coprolites have been found with plants inside, and one even contains decomposing wood – a sign that the dinosaur was supplementing its nutrition with fungi and bugs that feed on rotting logs.
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Asked by: Sarah Stone, Chipping Norton
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Steve is a professor and palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh and the author of the book The Rise And Reign Of The Mammals (£20, Picador), a 325-million-year odyssey of mammalian evolution and the people who study mammal fossils.
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