Skip to comments.World's largest dino dung -
Posted on 09/07/2003 4:36:54 PM PDT by UnklGene
World's largest dino dung T. rex left an ancient calling card, writes Jacob Berkowitz.
Jacob Berkowitz The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Mountains, beavers and the Maple leaf. And with a recent paleontological discovery Canada could soon gain international recognition for another natural wonder -- tyrannosaurid turds.
A team of Canadian and American scientists recently identified an Albertan fossil as the world's largest dinosaur dropping, stealing the title from a T. rex turd found in Saskatchewan in 1995.
While stool size is notable, what's really exciting scientists about this latest find is what it contains: Incredibly well-preserved dinosaur muscle tissue.
The 75-million-year-old fossilized feces, formally known as a coprolite, was discovered in the late 1990s near the town of Onefour in southeastern Alberta by Wendy Sloboda, a freelance paleontologist who is currently leading a paleo-tourism tour in the Gobi Desert.
Ms. Sloboda also has the distinction of co-discovering the T-rex coprolite.
"She's got a very good eye (for coprolites)," says Karen Chin, the world's foremost authority on dinosaur coprolites.
Measuring in at 64 centimetres in length (slightly narrower than the width of the average kitchen stove) and up to 17 centimetres wide, the six-litre bulk of the Albertan coprolite rules out small dinosaurs from contention as the probable pooper, says Ms. Chin, who led the analysis of the specimen. And given the presence of bone fragments, and its age, Ms. Chin and her colleagues think the dropper was probably one of T-rex's earlier relatives in the Tyrannosaurid family, including either Daspletosaurus or Gorgosaurus.
When initially contacted about the find, Ms. Chin was reluctant to devote much time to the specimen, given the piles of paleo-poop she was already studying. That is until she took a trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller to see it.
"Under the microscope I could see these impressions and I thought, whoa! It looks like muscle tissue, but it can't be muscle tissue, that would have been digested," recalls Ms. Chin from her office at the University of Colorado, where she's an assistant professor in the geological sciences department.
Preserved dinosaur soft-tissues, such as muscle and connective tissues, are extremely rare and are usually found in association with bones and some very well-preserved carcasses. However, when Ms. Chin took high-powered scanning electron microscope images of the coprolite, the images revealed the tell-tale parallel cell strands and longitudinal striations of muscle.
Even with this evidence, Ms. Chin wasn't ready to stick out her scientific neck and claim to have found preserved Mesozoic muscle in an old mound.
"One of the difficulties of identifying the remains in a coprolite is that they're outside of their anatomical context, they're all chopped, up," says Ms. Chin.
To seal the case, she had the specimen studied by Dr. Thomas Rando, a specialist in modern muscle tissues at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"He was quite blown away by the extraordinary preservation," and confirmed that the forms in the coprolite were indeed some of the world's oldest remains of dinosaur flesh, says Ms. Chin.
In a paper on the find published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Palaios, the team of researchers that analysed the coprolite, including David Eberth from the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, speculate that the preserved meat is the end result of a Tyrannosaurid that dined-and-dashed.
Gorging and gulping large chunks of flesh could have resulted in some of the ancient meal passing through its eater undigested. Based on the shape of the numerous bone fragments in the dropping, famed dinosaur hunter Jack Horner, one of the paper's co-authors, identified the prey remains as similar to those of the skull of a pachycephalosaur. This was one of the duck-billed dinosaurs, the bountiful herd-living Cretaceous equivalents of prairie buffalo.
Ms. Chin says that Canada's latest coprolite world-record holder reinforces the fact that "fecal matters" when it comes to the study of ancient animals. The coprolite and its well-preserved muscle tissue open up a new avenue for the study of not just dinosaur bones, but also the muscles that powered them. It's research that could help answer the question as to whether these terrible lizards were warm or cold blooded.
"People who aren't in this field hear about (coprolites) and wonder why I'm studying them and why I should get money to study this," Ms. Chin says.
"Generally though, after they learn what kind of information you can learn from them they get really excited about it."
Well now we know what really killed the dinosaurs...all that methane! Whew!
I can only think of one explaination for stomach contents leaving the body undigested.
Irritable Bowel Syndrom
I don't even want to think of the mood of a T-Rex with that condition.
LOL, I love it!
Ah, how I envy those folks. An opportunity for some real, hands-on experience.