If you consider poop to be just a waste material, palaeontologists would ask you to think twice. Apparently, a dinosaur ancestor’s 230million-year-old faeces had preserved beetles with their legs and antennas. Scientists found that the preserved beetles were from a species that was previously unknown, and did not belong to a known family — a group that contains many groups of species — of beetles. The discovery also made scientists realise that fossilised poop can open a new window, helping them look back in time farther than the other ways in which insects were preserved, such as in fossilised tree resin — amber. The oldest insect fossils found in a fossilised amber was 140million-year-old. On the other hand, poop fossils have doubled the stretch.
“I was really amazed to see how well preserved the beetles were,” said Martin Qvarnström, the lead author of the study, in a statement by Cell Press. When Qvarnström’s international team of scientists modelled the preserved beetles, “up on the screen, it was like they were looking right at you,” he added. The findings were published in Current Biology on June 30.
The dinosaur ancestor whose poop had preserved the beetles is known as Silesaurus opolensis and lived during the Triassic age — 252-201 million years ago. Scientists call the fossilised faeces coprolites. Hence, scientists named the new beetle species as Triamyxa coprolithica. The “myxa” in the Triamyxa indicates that the species belongs to the suborder Myxophaga — whose species live in wet environments and eat algae.
Scientists used synchrotron microtomography, a method in which X-rays are utilized to create a 3D model of an object, to model the fossilised poop. Scientists believe that the method helped them unlock a fortune. They now realise that using this method, they can find tons of data about the stuff inside the droppings of an animal. “The ultimate goal is to use the coprolite data to reconstruct ancient food webs and see how they changed across time," Qvarnström said in the statement.