Date: Mon, 16 Jan 95 18:10:52 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Coprolites Happen
Excerpted-from: WhiteBoard News for January 16, 1995
It seems appropriate this Friday the 13th to record that a dinosaur
paleontologist has reminded us that coprolites happen.
Coprolites are fossilized dung. Karen Chin, arguably the world's
leading authority on dino poop -- no one else seems to want the title
-- good-humoredly told an audience at the Pacific Science Center that
coprolites promise valuable information on ancient ecosystems.
"People find it funny," conceded the doctoral student from the
University of California at Santa Barbara. "It's a frontier, it
really is. It's inter- disciplinary."
Studying dung turned rock calls for expertise in digestion, botany,
bacteriology and dinosaurs themselves, she noted.
Chin broke out laughing during a screening of "Jurassic Park" when
actress Laura Dern shoved her arm into a pile of dung as high as her
head. In reality, Chin said, dino droppings were about the size of a
loaf of bread or smaller.
Scientists also have assumed fossilized dung should be rounded, but Chin
has examined how elephant droppings full of fiber break apart and
realized chunk-shaped rock with imbedded plant fossils probably are
That discovery came after Chin, who got her initial training under Jack
Horner -- the Montana paleontologist who inspired the Sam Neill role in
"Jurassic Park" -- put out a call for really good ... well, you know.
Her study of hundreds of samples has confirmed that, as suspected,
plant-eating dinosaurs consumed conifers and ferns. It has also
revealed that dung-eating beetles are as old as dinosaurs, something
not known before.
Coprolites were discovered in 1822, before dinosaurs were, but remain
Chin thinks paleontologists who concentrate on bone miss the droppings
that can show how species ate each other.
"There should be more of this out there," she said, hefting a sample.
[I'm doing my best! Geeez... -psl]
© 1995 Peter Langston