New beetle species discovered perfectly preserved in fossilized feces
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.
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.
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.