Fossilized Pterosaur Potentially Yields Prehistoric Poop

Hone et al, PeerJ (2015)
Hone et al, PeerJ (2015) / Hone et al, PeerJ (2015)

Who doesn’t love a well-preserved prehistoric turd? Bones can survive for millions of years, but squishier aspects of life—like sperm or poop—rarely make it into the fossil record. As a result, scientists get pretty psyched about such finds. 

In a new study in the journal PeerJ, paleontologists herald the discovery of possible pterosaur poop in a fossil housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Canada. The dinosaur cousin, Rhamphorhynchus, lived between 161 and 146 million years ago, and was unearthed in Germany in 1965. Looking back at the fossil more carefully, researchers from the museum, Queen Mary University of London, and the University of California found that a number of the flying reptile’s soft tissues had been preserved, including structural fibers and connective membranes on the wings, and what might be ingested food. 

The possible poop in question is marked "CP."

The paleontologists also found what they believe is a coprolite—fossilized feces. The probable turd, broken in two, is located just next to the base of the pterosaur’s spine, putting it in prime poop position.

A closer look

Based on the rare digestion-related fossils discovered here, the study’s authors hypothesize that this creature flew above the water, snapping up prey (which likely included some fish). The fossilized poop contained “simple spikes and hook-like shapes,” perhaps left over from fish gills or another digested marine animal. 

While the study’s authors are careful to call this a potential coprolite, if their analysis is correct this is the first pterosaur poop fossil ever recorded. 

[h/t: Smithsonian]All images from Hone et al, PeerJ (2015).