How Fossilized Poo Changed Our View on Dinosaurs

Friday, February 22, 2019

Source: Mike Beauregard // Flickr

Were you aware that some of the most beautiful (and informative) fossils out there are actually made of poop?

Yeah, it turns out that dino dung not only makes some gorgeous jewelry, it’s also full of information that scientists can use to learn about the environment and behaviors of some long-extinct creatures! Oh, and to make it even cooler, these pieces of fossilized poo have played a giant role in the history of women in science. Who knew such wonders could come in such strange forms? Just check out the inside of this one!

Unlike fossil finds of bone, fossilized poop, called coprolites, are able to give us insights into an animal’s diet, environment, and even hint at some of their unexpected behaviors! But even though dino dung would have been prevalent in its day, coprolites are far less common than their boney brethren.

For Paleontologists like Dr. Karen Chin, who studies ancient ecosystems, sometimes coprolites are the best evidence left behind. Hidden in these gems—really though they can be quite beautiful—lay clues to which species were available for the animals to eat and even the creatures that then made the poo their home!

Alright so let’s get into this! Here’s a great piece from the fantastic YouTube channel SciFri. If you haven’t yet subscribed to them jump over and give them a follow. They are a great source of all things science!

So there you go! Dinosaur poop can unlock a few mysteries and help us see into the ancient past with more clarity than ever.

But why does ancient dino dung matter to any of us today?

Let’s start with three words, women in science. Alright, friends, I won’t lie I really wasn’t sure where to go next with this article. I wanted to give you all more, in-depth media featuring coprolite factoids. Most of the videos featuring coprolites tend to focus on the “Oh cool, poop!” angle and less on the “Woah! Science!” angle. I was stumped, really really stumped.

But then, I found the podcast Tumble! If you haven’t heard of them yet, allow me to change your life.

Or, more accurately, the life of any kid you know. It’s a science podcast for kids and it’s PHENOMENAL! They cover all kinds of scientific topics from approachable angles that kids and adults can enjoy. And, they run about 15-20 minutes long so they stay at a pace that keeps kids (and distractable adults) engaged. Honestly, I’m subscribing as a curious adult without kids in her life.

So, back to why this all matters to us? They have two episodes on coprolites. The first features an interview with Dr. Chin, the paleontologist from the video we featured today. The second shines a light on the fascinating history of coprolites. As it turns out, dinosaur poop plays a critical role in the history of women in science! It even involves one of my personal science heroes, Mary Anning. Yes, if you or I or anybody else knows or is a woman of science, we can thank coprolites for playing a part in helping women break into the field!

No matter your age, there’s something there for you.

Oh, and here are the links to a couple of the great things they mentioned in the episode. Here is the link to Kidosaurus. And if you want to dig into the history of women in archaeology, geology and paleontology go check out TrowelBlazers!