When you gotta go, you gotta go: Prehistoric dinosaur toilet discovered in Argentina
Each fecal specimen is a 'time capsule' to dinosaur era
There was a classic illustrated children's book entitled "Everyone Poops." This definitely was true of the dinosaurs, as a gigantic "communal latrine" created at the dawn of the dinosaurs has been discovered in Argentina.
Many of the feces were sausage-like, while others were pristine ovals. Colors ranged from whitish gray to dark brown-violet.
Each poo is a time capsule to the dawn of the dinosaurs.
The surviving material gives clues to the prehistoric diet, disease and vegetation. Today, elephants, antelopes and horses are all animals who defecate in socially agreed hotspots, in order to mark territory and reduce the spread of parasites. The recent discovery breaks the previous record of "oldest toilet" by 220 million years.
Fossil "coprolites" as wide as 40 centimeters, weighing several kilograms were found in seven massive patches across the Chanares Formation in La Rioja province. Many of the feces were sausage-like, while others were pristine ovals. Colors ranged from whitish gray to dark brown-violet.
The culprits were dicynodonts - ancient megaherbivores.
"There is no doubt who the culprit was," Dr Lucas Fiorelli, of Crilar-Conicet, who discovered the dung heaps declares. "Only one species could produce such big lumps - and we found their bones littered everywhere at the site."
The defecators were the Dinodontosaurus, an eight-foot-long megaherbivore similar to modern rhinos. Dicynodonts, which are large, mammal-like reptiles, the Dinodontosaurus was common in the Triassic period when the first dinosaurs began to emerge.
The fact these creatures shared a lavatory suggests they were gregarious, herd animals, who had good reasons to poo strategically, Dr. Fiorelli says.
"Firstly, it was important to avoid parasites - 'you don't poo where you eat', as the saying goes.
"But it's also a warning to predators. If you leave a huge pile, you are saying: 'Hey! We are a big herd. Watch out!"
The common predator at this time was the formidable Luperosuchus, a crocodile-like carnivore. The dung patches, however, were equally intimidating.
A museum of poos has been created by the researchers.
A density of 94 "poos" per square meter was recorded by the researchers. And the excrement was spread across patches 900 square meters in size.
Prehistoric coprolites are nothing new, but it is extremely rare to find an accumulation as old and substantial as this one, as feces degrade easily. A sheet of volcanic ash has preserved the ancient dung piles "like Pompeii", Dr. Fiorelli says.
The world's oldest toilet - an artist's impression.
Like tiny time capsules, "When cracked open they reveal fragments of extinct plants, fungi, and gut parasites," Martin Hechenleitner, a fellow author on the study says.
"Each poo is a snapshot of an ancient ecosystem - the vegetation and the food chain.
"This was a crucial time in evolutionary history. The first mammals were there, living alongside the grandfather of dinosaurs.
"Maybe with these fossils we can glimpse into the lost environment which gave rise to the dinosaurs."
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