Planet Earth

Ordure of Magnitude


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Taking a break from their excavation of a T. rex skeleton in southwestern Saskatchewan, paleontologist Tim Tokaryk of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and technician Wendy Sloboda of the Royal Tyrrell Museum noticed a whitish gray mass jutting from the gray green hillside. What Sloboda eventually unearthed was a 17- inch-long, 5-inch-high, 6-inch-wide piece of dinosaur dreck. The coprolite, as paleontologists call fossilized feces, weighs nearly 15 pounds and was surely heavier when fresh. It was embedded throughout with bone fragments, most likely from a young triceratops or hadrosaur. In Saskatchewan 67 to 65 million years ago, the only carnivore capable of issuing such a stupendous specimen was the 12,000-pound Tyrannosaurus rex. The bone fragments in the coprolite were angular and pointed, suggesting that they hadn't spent a long time stewing in the T. rex's stomach. If they had, says Tokaryk, acidic juices should have rounded their edges. "This gives us some idea of the digestive system of a creature that died 65 million years ago." The coprolite also confirms earlier work that suggested T. rex's teeth were strong enough to shatter bone. Says Tokaryk of this insight into T. rex's eating habits: "It's sort of like looking at the problem from the other end."

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