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Geologic Potty Training

Earth scientists study any aspect that warrants close attention. Young ambitious graduate students will study almost anything.  As a grad student, I looked in detail at a two foot thick bed of 400 million year old lagoonaly derived limestone that covered about 100 square miles of south eastern Indiana, others were doing different tasks their professors dutifully assigned them.  One of the least known and most maligned professions is paleoscatology.  The people that follow this field would be known commonly as folks who study fossil poop (called coprolites in the business) or just fossil scat. Some people study fossil species other study fossil feces.  OK, enough with the bad humor…

Regardless of the snickers out there, I remind you that information comes to the geologist in many ways.  While the actual fossilized poop is not technically a fossil but an inchofossil (not actually a part of the biological organism that was fossilized but a trace that it was there.) There is a lot of information in a fossil scat pile. Just like modern scatologists, paleoscatologists learn much about the diet of an animal that leaves these fairly common trace fossils around.  Carnivorous dinosaurs for instance, often have bone fragment that are identifiable within the scat.  This gives us a good idea of what certain species ate.  Some plant eaters have seed pods preserved within their leavings also giving up clues to diet and the surrounding fauna and flora of the area they were eating in.  This accumulated knowledge may even give information on the climate by knowing what plants were present by their seeds in fossil scat. We know which coprolites belonged to what animal because we often get them preserved along and inplace with articulated whole body fossils. I get a lot of turtle coprolites coming out of my fossil sites on my ranch.  Often the coprolite is the only indication that a particular species was around at the time the rock was deposited.

Other information gained might be the size and strength of the extruding alimentary canal (got that?), how far the drop to the ground (remember “the present is the key to the past”) and total loadsize.  Funny as these might be they give an idea of the configuration of soft parts of the contributing creatures anatomy not commonly preserved by fossilization, posture and amount of diet.  As you would suspect, really big dinosaurs had really big scat piles too.  Just watch the Jurassic Park episodes for this visual.  I am not sure what the starting wage of a paleoscatologist is but I will tell you that a doctors degree and at least 4 years of post graduate work is necessary for recognition in the field.

This is serious stuff here!  Ok, who laughed? Class, CLASS!

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