Fossil poop exhibits fishy lunches from 200 million years in the past

Fossil poop shows fishy lunches from 200 million years ago

A brand new examine of coprolites, fossil poop, exhibits the element of meals webs within the historic shallow seas round Bristol in south-west England. One hungry fish ate a part of the top of one other fish earlier than snipping off the tail of a passing reptile.

Fossil poop shows fishy lunches from 200 million years ago
CT scan of coprolite specimen, BRSMG Cf15546, in several views, displaying tuberculated bone (blue)
from a fish cranium, and two vertebrae from the tail of the marine reptile Pachystropheus, in yellow
and inexperienced [Credit: Marie Cueille, and Palaeobiology Research Group, University of Bristol]

Marie Cueille, a visiting scholar on the College of Bristol’s College of Earth Sciences, was engaged on a set of a whole bunch of fish poops from the Rhaetian bone mattress close to Chipping Sodbury in South Gloucestershire, dated at 205 million years in the past. She utilized new scanning expertise to look inside these coprolites and located a tremendous array of meals stays.

Marie stated: “The traditional fishes and sharks of the Rhaetian seas have been practically all carnivores. Their coprolites include scales, enamel, and bones, and these inform us who was consuming whom. In truth, all of the fish appear to have been snapping at one another, though the final rule of the ocean in all probability utilized: if it is smaller than you, eat it.”

The CT scans of 1 tiny coprolite, measuring solely a centimeter or so in size, contained solely three bones, one a extremely tuberculated cranium bone of one other fish, and two vertebrae from the tail of a small marine reptile referred to as Pachystropheus.

Dr. Chris Duffin, who collaborated on the undertaking added: “This shark in all probability snapped at one other fish or scavenged some flesh from the top area of a useless fish. Nevertheless it did not simply strip off the flesh however swallowed nice chunks of bone on the identical time. Then it snapped at a Pachystropheus swimming by and had a bit of its tail.”

Fossil poop shows fishy lunches from 200 million years ago
Meals internet for the Rhaetian, 205 million years in the past, of the Bristol area. The arrows present
who eats whom, and purple and black means inferred, and blue arrows are primarily based
on proof from coprolites [Credit: Marie Cueille and Mike Benton]

Professor Mike Benton, who co-supervised the examine, stated: “What amazed us was that the bones and scales contained in the coprolites have been virtually fully undamaged. Right now, most predators that swallow their prey entire, equivalent to sharks, crocodiles or killer whales, have highly effective abdomen acids that dissolve the bone away. These historic fishes will need to have had a painful time passing their feces which have been completely bristling with comparatively massive chunks of bone.”

The researchers additionally recognized for the primary time some coprolites of crabs and lobsters, so this completes the meals internet. The marine reptiles and sharks have been feeding on smaller fishes, which in flip consumed even smaller fishes and lobsters. Some additionally had crushing enamel tailored to feeding on oysters and different molluscs.


The examine has a classical resonance as nicely, as a result of Rhaetian coprolites from bonebeds close to Bristol have been a few of these studied by William Buckland (1784–1856) within the 1820s when he invented the title coprolite. Buckland was professor of geology at Oxford College, but additionally Dean of Christ Church, and recognized for his uncommon consuming habits. Probably his curiosity in consuming unique animals (he would serve his visitors roasted dormice or potted panther however declared that moles and home flies have been inedible) gave him an curiosity in animal diets.

Buckland pioneered using coprolites to reconstruct historic meals webs. He additionally collected specimens from the Jurassic round Lyme Regis, and plenty of have been provided by well-known fossil collector Mary Anning (1799–1847). Buckland even had these bigger coprolites lower throughout and set into the highest of a desk, which was extremely polished and likely shaped a dialog opener throughout lunch and tea events within the Dean’s lodgings.

The brand new work additionally sheds mild on the Mesozoic Marine Revolution, the time when marine ecosystems modernized. The coprolites from Bristol present a fancy, modern-style ecosystem with lobsters, bony fishes, sharks and marine reptiles on the prime of the meals internet. Reconstructing the timing of the occasion is of present curiosity, and the brand new work suggests the method started sooner than had been thought.

The examine is printed in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Affiliation.

Supply: College of Bristol [November 02, 2020]

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