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Dinosaurs & dung

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61435.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 9:22 am Reply with quote

The first corpolite was found by William Buckland in 1823 in a cave in Yorkshire, but he didn't know what it was. He thought it was hyaena dung and a remnant of the Biblical flood (he was an ordained minister and sought constantly to tie in gelology and life with the biblical accounts).

The first dinosaur itself was described in 1824 by Wiliam Buckland, professor of Geology at Oxford. It was on account of the many lower jaw bones he'd found in the Stonesfield quarries near Oxford. He named it Megalosaurus, because it was huge.

[I like the idea of someone finding dinosaur dung and then looking around going 'whoah, that's big', Keanu Reeves style, and then finding a dinosaur later on...]

Lower jaw:

The word dinosaur didn't come along until the anatomist Richard Owen in 1842.

Since the volume that holds Owen's paper purports to be the proceedings of the 1841 annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, it has always been assumed that Owen used the term "dinosaur" when he delivered his paper in July 1841. And indeed, in 1991 there were numerous celebrations in England of the 150th anniversary of the Dinosaur. It was recently discovered, however, that Owen made no mention of dinosaurs in his presented paper; it was not until writing his article for publication that he invented his new suborder.
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Soon fossils were being recognized and dug up all over the world. America (Ferdinand V. Hayden, Nebraska, 1856).

William Buckland’s famed collection of Saurian coprolites also went under the hammer. These were the very specimens Buckland used to demonstrate the nature of the Saurian diet, part of which demonstrated cannibalism of infant Ichthyosaurs. Buckland also had a table made entirely out of coprolites, which was greatly admired by visitors, often unknowing of what they were actually admiring! Buckland junior wrote: ‘I have seen in actual use ear-rings made of polished portions of coprolites (for they are as hard as marble); and while admiring the beauty of the wearer, have made out distinctly the scales and bones of the fish which once formed the dinner of a hideous lizard, but now hang pendulous from the ears of an unconscious belle, who had evidently never heard of such things as coprolites.’

The oldest coprolites are from marine species, going back over 400 million years.

Paleontologist Karen Chin, who specializes in coprolites, discovered tunnels in some dinosaur coprolites she was studying. She was able to determine that these tunnels were produced by dung beetles very similar to the modern dung beetles that can be found crawling about on the feces of our modern large herbivores.

She's also found some T Rex dung (it's huge).

189272.  Mon Jul 09, 2007 4:21 am Reply with quote

DUNG GETS NO RESPECT FROM most organisms, but dung beetles are an exception. They live off it, burrowing into the rich, nutritious piles and pats, mining the stuff and squirreling it away in subterranean chambers for a dungless day. It now seems dung beetles have been at their strange business for at least 75 million years. According to paleontologist Karen Chin, before their current partnership with mammals they were mooching off dinosaurs.

Chin, a graduate student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, became interested in coprolites--fossil dung--when she was working in dinosaur hunter Jack Horner's lab at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. Homer told her about some 75-million-year-old fossils he thought might be coprolites of a hadrosaur (a type of dinosaur that formed herds). When Chin analyzed the fossils, she found they contained mostly stem tissue from conifers. That meant they were herbivore dung. "And I knew I had dino dung based on the size," she says. "There were no other living herbivores big enough to have produced pats that big." The largest pat was roughly 13.5 inches by 13 inches by 9.5 inches. Chin guesses that the pats came from a 24-foot-long hadrosaur called Maiasaura.

As Chin began to section the dino dung, she noticed that some of the fossils had numerous burrows, ranging from .04 inch to an inch and a quarter in diameter. She then showed the fossils to Bruce Gill, an entomologist with Agriculture Canada, Canada's national agricultural research agency, and an expert on dung beetles. "When he saw the burrows," Chin says, "he said they couldn't be due to anything but dung beetles."

Since the burrows vary so widely in diameter, it's likely that several different species of beetle lived on the hadrosaur dung. The next step, Chin says, is to try to find out which ones--perhaps by finding some fossil beetles. But already the coprolites have shed new light on dinosaur ecology. "So often we tend to concentrate on just the dinosaurs," Chin says. "But here we have evidence of the food web--of a dinosaur eating conifers, and of beetles then processing the tremendous amount of dinosaur excrement."

Which makes me wonder exactly how any dinosaur dung survived long enough to be fossilised...must have been random.


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