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Scientists have opened 200 million-year-old parasite eggs found in ancient predator

Keryn Donnelly

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Scientists have opened 200 million-year-old parasite eggs found in ancient predator

Featured Image Credit: Ryan Somma (Creative Commons). PLOS One.

Well, this sounds like the beginning of a disaster movie.

Scientists have cut open the fossilized poo of a crocodile-like predator that lived 200 million years ago, to discover the animal was infected with multiple parasite species, including worms.

The feces, which is also called a coprolite, was first unearthed in 2010 from the Huai Hin Lat Formation in north-eastern Thailand.

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The coprolite is cylindrical in shape and over 7cm long. Based on its shape and contents, the researchers believe it was likely produced by some species of phytosaur, which are crocodile-like predators that are known to have roamed the same area that the poo was found in.

As part of their research, the team from Mahasarakham University, Thailand, analysed a portion of the poo and discovered five kinds of parasitic remnants, each around 50-150 micrometers long.

They then sliced open the parasitic egg with a diamond saw 'using a standard thin section method', according to their report published in the journal PLOS ONE.

These ultra-thin slices allowed the palaeontologists to view cross-sections of the ancient worm egg under the microscope.

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Thanit Nonsrirach, the study's lead author, said the poo was first discovered by local villagers over 13 years ago.

"The peculiar appearance of these findings intrigued the villagers, who considered them potentially auspicious and capable of bestowing good luck if repurposed as talismans," Nonsrirach Inverse.

"In 2010, our team received word of this discovery and embarked on a field expedition, guiding the villagers to the actual fossil site."

Nonsrirach said its rare to come across a parasite fossil so he wanted to take a closer look.

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“This new point of view gives us a deeper understanding of how past ecosystems were connected and how they affected the lives of prehistoric animals,” Nonsrirach told Inverse.

He says the discovery gives them some insight into how predator, prey animals and parasites interacted over 200 million years ago.

“Coprolites can preserve the soft bodies of ancient organisms, which helps us learn more about their biology,” Nonsrirach said.

“It's exciting to think that we might uncover new fossils that have never been seen before.”

Topics: News, World News, Science

Keryn Donnelly
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