Science

New beetle species discovered perfectly preserved in fossilized feces

New beetle species discovered ...
A 3D scan of Triamyxa coprolithica, a beetle that's now the first species to be described from fossilized feces (coprolite)
A 3D scan of Triamyxa coprolithica, a beetle that's now the first species to be described from fossilized feces (coprolite)
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A 3D scan of Triamyxa coprolithica, a beetle that's now the first species to be described from fossilized feces (coprolite)
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A 3D scan of Triamyxa coprolithica, a beetle that's now the first species to be described from fossilized feces (coprolite)
The researchers found many fragments of Triamyxa coprolithica specimens in the coprolite, including some remarkably complete ones
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The researchers found many fragments of Triamyxa coprolithica specimens in the coprolite, including some remarkably complete ones
An artist's illustration of Silesaurus, which is suspected to have produced the coprolite
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An artist's illustration of Silesaurus, which is suspected to have produced the coprolite
A render of the locations of the beetle fragments inside the coprolite, alongside a diagram of the Silesaurus that likely left it
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A render of the locations of the beetle fragments inside the coprolite, alongside a diagram of the Silesaurus that likely left it
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Amber is one of the best materials for preserving insects and small creatures, and it’s beautiful to boot. But now it might have some competition (in the preservation field, anyway) – fossilized feces. A hapless beetle has become the first species to have been discovered and described after being preserved in poo.

Fossils don’t just include bodily remains, such as bones, skin or feathers – there’s plenty we can learn from trace fossils such as footprints or feces. The latter, known as coprolites, can reveal important details about what extinct animals ate.

A render of the locations of the beetle fragments inside the coprolite, alongside a diagram of the Silesaurus that likely left it
A render of the locations of the beetle fragments inside the coprolite, alongside a diagram of the Silesaurus that likely left it

In this case, it looks like beetles were on the menu. Scientists from Sweden, Taiwan, Germany and Mexico used synchrotron microtomography to scan a 230-million-year-old coprolite, and found it to be full of assorted beetle body parts. Some of them were still remarkably whole, complete with legs and antennae, allowing the scientists to analyze, compare and describe them.

In doing so, the team discovered that the beetles constituted a new species, an extinct lineage of the Myxophaga suborder. Its relatives are still living today, mostly around algae.

The new species was named Triamyxa coprolithica – and let’s just think about that for a second. Imagine you’re a poor beetle who gets eaten by a lizard, but that’s not the end of the torment. Instead, you make it all the way out, mostly intact, only to spend the next 230 million years trapped in feces. Then when you’re finally found, you’re given a scientific name that roughly translates to “beetle poo stone.” What a legacy.

An artist's illustration of Silesaurus, which is suspected to have produced the coprolite
An artist's illustration of Silesaurus, which is suspected to have produced the coprolite

The original artist responsible for the coprolite is suspected to be Silesaurus, a Triassic ancestor of the dinosaurs. This creature stood about waist high and weighed around 15 kg (33 lb), and had a beak at the tip of its jaws which may have helped it catch insects.

"I never thought that we would be able to find out what the Triassic precursor of the dinosaurs ate for dinner," says Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki, co-author of the study.

The research was published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: Uppsala University via EurekAlert

View gallery - 4 images
2 comments
2 comments
AmericanBadger
The ultimate dung beetle.
ArdisLille
I'll be chuckling about that all day, A.B.