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Research Shows Hidden Treasure in Dinosaur Poop

You might think that fossilized feces are just full of garbage, but recent Research on one specimen has uncovered a hidden gem: a 230-million-year-old beetle species that had never been discovered before. According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology, the tiny beetles, named Triamyxa coprolitic, are the first insects reported from fossilized feces — or coprolites — and were seen using a scanning procedure uses intense X-ray beams.

Aside from the beetles’ finding in a coprolite, the scientific name also relates to the Triassic period (approximately 252 million to 201 million years ago) and the Myxophaga suborder of bugs (minor aquatic or semiaquatic bugs that eat algae). Sam Heads, Director and Chief Curator of the PRI for Paleontology, said, “Insect fossils of this type, preserved in three-dimensions like this, are practically unheard of from the Triassic, so this discovery is significant.”

He added, “This is facilitated by coprolites’ calcium phosphatic composition. This together with early mineralization by bacteria likely helped to preserve these delicate fossils.” Mineralization occurs when organic molecules are transformed into inorganic compounds during breakdown processes, and calcium phosphate is essential for bone development and preservation.The scientists concluded that the coprolites were excreted by Silesaurus opolensis. This small dinosaur lived around 230 million years ago in Poland. It weighed about 33.1 pounds, based on the size, shape, and other anatomical features of fossilized droppings analyzed in prior Research by the current study’s authors.

Silesaurus had a beak at the point of its jaws that it could have used to root through the litter and possibly peck insects off the ground, similar to how contemporary birds do. Silesaurus appears to have eaten many Triamyxa coprolithica beetles, but they were likely not the only prey.

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